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Hector review at Musselburgh’s Brunton Theatre – ‘great storytelling gives complex tale clarity’

Steven Duffy, Kevin Lennon, Raj Ghatak and Valentine Hanson in Hector. Photo: Peter Dibdin Steven Duffy, Kevin Lennon, Raj Ghatak and Valentine Hanson in Hector. Photo: Peter Dibdin
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A prurient and establishment-serving press is far from a modern invention, as is seen in David Gooderson’s play about the final years of Hector MacDonald. A favourite of Queen Victoria, knighted in 1901, he was popularly known as “Fighting Mac” and famously rose from the bottom to the top of the British Army.

His demise came after being appointed commander in chief of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), outplayed by innuendo and tittle-tattle turned into an unsubstantiated allegation of inappropriate conduct.

Steven Duffy gives MacDonald a stern, upright – almost uptight – demeanour under Kate Nelson’s clear direction. With nimble storytelling, her light-footed ensemble paint his active military career with strong, quick strokes across Ali Maclaurin’s multitasking set of drab boxes. A career built on intelligence and heroism in battle and ending with a damning public condemnation of Kitchener’s concentration camp policy against the Boers.

The baddies here are clearly the British elite in Ceylon. Notably the governor’s wife Lady Ridgeway, who Gowan Calder gives an imperious sneer to, and her favourite, the plantation owner Phipps who Valentine Hanson plays with brilliantly observed hints of his own impropriety – Phipps whipping up allegations with the help of the spineless priest Bayliss (Kevin Lennon) and Stevie Hannan’s Governor who is most concerned with balancing the books.

Raj Ghatak stands out in several clearly-defined roles, notably MacDonald’s ultimately conflicted mentor, Lord Roberts, and his only real friend in Ceylon, the bank clerk Rajiv.

If the structure here irks somewhat, with an unresolved framing device, the whole rings horribly true of an establishment that always looks after its own.

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Great storytelling gives clarity to the complex tale of Hector MacDonald, Victorian hero fallen from grace