Factor 9 @ Summerhall

Review by Alecia Marshall | 18 Aug 2014
  • Factor 9 @ Summerhall

Less than 30 years ago, Britain was privy to modern man’s largest medical scandal. Thousands of haemophiliacs (a medical condition in which the ability of the blood to clot is severely reduced) were offered a ‘revolutionary’ new product to treat their condition. Its name – Factor 9. Concocted from the contaminated blood of many unhealthy, often unwilling donors, Factor 9 infected many of its patients with viruses such as Hepatitis C, HIV and AIDS. As the facts of the tragedy continue to emerge – each revelation more appalling than the last – and the government continue to redirect responsibility, the death toll of those effected continues to rise.

Hamish MacDonald’s play takes its names from the contaminated product and is similarly virulent. Constructed from the testimonies of Scottish campaigners Bruce Norval and Robert Mackie, MacDonald spins a complex web of anger and frustration that traps its characters at the centre; allowing them little light and the audience little relief.

It is an angry play. Stewart Porter delivers a high pitched performance as Rab, bellowing his dialogue from the opening scene to the final line. Matthew Zajac is similarly strung, his monologues as the deteriorating Bruce acerbic and belligerent, raw with desperation and exasperation.

Herein lies the problem. The narrative is quick, loud and incessant, leaving little room for progression or development. Vital explanations are often clumsy and unclear, leaving its audience stranded in a mess of medical vocabulary. For such a human story there is little for the audience to connect with and invest in and the fate of the characters is perhaps less unsettling than it should be. 

It is an important and intriguing story, almost fictional in its gravity and undoubtedly deserves a voice, but whether Factor 9 provides the deserved tone is sadly questionable.

Factor 9, Summerhall, until 24 Aug, 1.55pm Various prices