David Gooderson
Eden Court/Comar/Ed Littlewood
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Steven Duffy as Hector Credit: Peter Dibdin

A play about a scandal, Hector attempts to show that Sir Hector MacDonald, who committed suicide in 1903 due to allegations of homosexual behaviour, suffered because of his rise through the ranks, not his sexuality.

Sir Hector MacDonald, often referred to as 'Fighting Mac' due to his exceptional military prowess fighting for the British Empire in the late nineteenth century, rose to the rank of Major-General. However his story has always been seen as tragedy of a man brought down by a fatal flaw.

What the play does is to show how this could have come about, how an innocent man could have ended up deciding that suicide was the only way out of his predicament. How MacDonald (Steven Duffy) managed to rub up the top brass of Ceylon, where he was posted, and they took their revenge on him

The play deals mainly with MacDonald's time in Ceylon, which only began in early 1902. It does however feature some short scenes of his military successes. As is explained, most of the relevant records of his time in Ceylon were destroyed. So the play tries to recreate this airbrushed area of history from what little evidence remains.

Hector is a fish out of water amongst the public school educated, cocktail drinking snobs and this leads him into conflict with the Governor (Stevie Hannan), Phipps (Valentine Hanson) and Bayliss (Kevin Lennon). In their colourful, floral, satin jackets, they mock the plain, militarily dressed MacDonald as 'The Crofter' and in the end plot his downfall.

Duffy gives a solid performance as a man of great skill on the battlefield, but clueless in a community of social gatherings and gossip. His enemies are naïve too, merely wanting to force him to leave and panicking when the scandal starts to get out of hand.

The play is concerned with the problem of trial by the media, a problem which has most certainly not improved in the last century. It manages to portray a less sensational series of events based on the facts available, although obviously the writer has had to fill in the blanks.

It has been assumed in the past that MacDonald's suicide was an indicator of his guilt, but the play helps us to see how for a soldier in that position it was perhaps the simplest way out.

MacDonald's sexuality doesn't matter, although the play does remind us he had a wife Christina (Gowan Calder) back in London. What the play shows is the horribly destructive force of Victorian views on sexuality, something which we have not quite yet escaped from today.

Reviewer: Seth Ewin

Are you sure?