3000 Trees

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3000 Trees: The Death of Mr William MacRae by Andy Paterson – New Town Theatre, Edinburgh

3000 Trees begins with two gunshots, and the rest of the play is an attempt to explain what they mean. The violent death of SNP politician Willie MacRae, found in 1985 in his car off a remote Highland road, shot in the head, is one of the political mysteries of the time. However, outside Scotland these events are largely forgotten, and Andy Paterson’s compelling one man show aims to change at least that fact. MacRae, a Glasgow lawyer involved in opposing applications for nuclear waste disposal in Scotland, was a loner. He was probably gay, said to be a heavy drinker, and possibly depressed. He also carried a gun, for protection, and it was this which was found by his body, having delivered a bullet to his head. It carried no fingerprints. The play’s title, it turns out, refers to the forest planted in his memory.

Paterson, who also performs the show, portrays Macrae as a dry, self-aware man with a tendency to break into Jacobite song as he makes his way through a bottle of whisky while recounting his life story. His nationalist politics is anchored in colonial experiences in the Indian Navy, and the play reflects with a shocking directness on the bruality of the British in India with their special stocks of bullets marked ‘Not to be used on Christian troops.’ Paterson’s account of Macrae’s life and politics is convincing and affecting, particularly as he ponders his failure to achieve lasting relationships. No one is ever likely to know at really happened in 1985, but the circumstances are highly suspicious and Macrae certainly seems the kind of powerful, subversive figure likely to make an enemy of the state. 3000 Trees tells an important story with subtle power – a show well worth seeing.

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