Two weeks ago I digitally watched Hamish MacDonald’s play Factor 9, directed by Ben Harrison and performed by a cast of two, Mathew Zajac and Stewart Porter. The play was originally performed in 2014, opening at Profilteatern’s Festival of Horror & Art in Umea, Sweden. Factor 9 then went on to tour in Denmark and Wales, before touring Scotland in April, 2014.
MacDonald’s play, based on the testimonies of Bruce Norval and Robert Mackie, deals with the shocking and devastating effects of Britain’s contaminated blood scandal, whereby thousands of haemophiliacs were infected with AIDS, Hepatitis C and other infections through contaminated blood products in the 1980s. In a fusion of testimony, spoken word, as well as a blending of digital media effects, cast members Zajac and Porter inform, shock, and ultimately mobilise the audience.
With the cast playing multiple roles and the story constantly transporting us to new locations and places in time, it can take a minute to adjust to the style; however, once you do, the fragmented style undoubtedly works to tell this story, and I can’t see how a linear narrative would have had the same effect. Harrison uses digital media throughout; projecting video footage, photographs of the people being referenced, dates, times, and other data. This was incredibly effective, and attached the theatrical world to the real one, giving the whole play a sense of reality and weight that is essential in telling a story like this one. What struck me most was the passion and energy of both Zajac and Porter, who, from the second the play started, forcibly brought us with them and made us feel their anguish. While I felt this thoroughly even on a digital platform, I couldn’t help but wonder how much more impactful their performances might have been live.
For me, Factor 9 encapsulated the benefits of recording live theatre for digital consumption. While I still believe nothing can compare to the experience of seeing something live, MacDonald’s play brought to light the many reasons why having access to old performances can continue the legacy of the piece. As a play that not only deals with the ongoing atrocities of Britain’s blood scandal, it is symptomatically a piece about the AIDS epidemic, which, in the midst of another pandemic, allows for a completely different consumption of the piece than a 2014 audience might have had. To this end, storing these works are not only beneficial for those who didn’t manage to catch them at the time, but they allow them to exist in times that give them new meaning and perhaps gauge a different response. I thoroughly enjoyed this piece and would recommend it to anyone who isn’t afraid to be brutally educated.
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