‘3,000 Trees’, a phrase which also appears in the title of another play on the same subject in this year’s Fringe (reviewed here) refers to the number of trees planted by the Israeli government of the day to mark the passing of their friend and mentor Willie Macrae.
Macrae’s unexplained demise features also in the novel ‘The Land lay Still’ by James Robertson, and both then and now can produce reactions of differing kinds.
Here his death is attributed, as it often has been, to the machinations of a Westminster security establishment fighting a ‘secret war’ against Scottish nationalism.
That a sustained campaign was conducted to nip the rise of nationalism in post-World War II Scotland is hardly now in dispute, although both that campaign and the cause itself have been capable of inducing more paranoia than either actually justified.
However one chooses to read the preceding paragraph, George Gunn’s play is conscious both of its subject and timing.
Willie Macrae, Scottish nationalist, anti-nuclear campaigner and general nuisance to the state is travelling to his getaway cottage for the weekend, and is temporarily trapped by bad weather at Alt-na-shiel. Enter Nemesis in the strangely over-friendly guise of a Special Branch officer who, it is implied, has tracked Macrae with no good intention.
Played out around the counter of a petrol station shop, Gunn’s blank verse is one of the play’s better points, subtle enough to not disrupt the dialogue, although politics and personal positions remained very much on show.
It’s with these that the niggles come fairly think and fast. Jimmy Chisholm’s Macrae seems too avuncular a character to be the driven creature Macrae appears to have been.
Oliphant the agent appears an equally good egg, albeit one solid in his unionism rather than eloquent in its defence, but still an unlikely candidate for the role of executioner.
The mystery surrounding Macrae’s death remains, as the arguments over nation and statehood, identity and consciousness continue unresolved in the hearts and minds of the people.
‘3,000 Trees’ doesn’t quite manage to give Willie Macrae’s story the full shilling it surely deserves, although it may now be beyond anyone’s powers to do that. Further enquiries of the case are still demanded, although it is difficult to imagine what more may be revealed at this distance from the event.
Nonetheless, it’s good to find that the mystery surrounding Willie Macrae continues to provoke questions, even although there may not be ready answers.
Gryphon @ West End 1-24 August, 7.15 pm (not Mondays),