Sunday, 3 August 2014

3,000 Trees

I think that if I were asked to single out one specific group of men, one type, one category, as being the most suspicious, unbelieving, unreasonable, petty, inhuman, sadistic, double-crossing set of bastards in any language, I would say without any hesitation: "the people who run counter-espionage departments." - Eric Ambler, The Light of Day.
Whether it still does or not, I don't know; but a framed copy of that quote used to hang in just about every Intelligence Corps mess or office in the 1980s. The only other memorable wall decoration from those days was the missing one. In the Headquarters Officers' Mess at Ashford there were portraits of every INT Corps officer who had gone on to become notable or famous. Except one: Hamish Henderson, from whose work this blog takes its title. The presence of one and the absence of the other sums up both the braggadocio and the paranoia which pervaded the British security Establishment in the 1980s.

From before the first word is spoken on stage, memories of Hamish pervade George Gunn's 3,000 Trees playing at the Bread Street Hilton (formerly The Point) in Edinburgh. Anyone who heard Margaret Bennett sing Grioghal Chridhe at Hamish's funeral with over 1,000 voices joining in the chorus will forever associate that song with him. The song is played as the audience take their seats. Hamish's Flyting o' Life and Daith features throughout and Alison McMorland coached the very talented Helen MacKay in the singing of it.

If you're expecting an examination of the conspiracy theories surrounding the death of Willie MacRae, forget it. What you get is an imaginative and marvellous piece of theatre.

Two things still intrigue me: Why George employed the slightly Pythonesque ruse of renaming his protagonist Willie MacKay (He's not Willie MacRae - he's a very naughty boy!) - bizarrely, even that thought brings back 80s memories of the hilarious encounter between the Python team and another former Intelligencer, Malcolm Muggeridge, following the Life of Brian controversy.  The second is how a playwright from Caithness managed to so accurately personify the aforementioned braggadocio and paranoia of the security services of the 1980s in the character of Oliphant, skilfully played by Adam Robertson.

Having had my own run-in with the British security Establishment, I found myself enthralled by Jimmy Chisholm's magnetic portrayal of the MacKay character. The play is worth seeing for Chisholm's stage presence alone.

Do yourself a favour and get down to the Gryphon Venue, Bread Street Hilton at 19:15 till August 24th. You won't regret it. I am indebted to my old friend Nancy Nicolson for the tip off.