3000 Trees: The Death of Mr William MacRae, a solo show by Andy Paterson, premiered at the 2014 Fringe and has been touring ever since. Its subject is the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of lawyer, anti-nuclear campaigner, and SNP candidate William MacRae in 1985. Having made an enemy of the English establishment when he defeated in court their plans to dump nuclear waste in Galloway, he was known to have been under surveillance by government intelligence agencies who were also desperately trying to get their hands on his files for his case against their Dounreay nuclear waste disposal plans.
Two startlingly loud gunshots signal the start of the play, and the William MacRae who emerges onstage is a shade of sorts, reflecting back on his death and some of the events in his life that suggest he may have been killed by the state. He paints a sinister picture of government tab-keeping on those they deem potentially subversive. Other subjects addressed include colonialism (support for Indian independence was the first red flag in MacRae’s file), the role of the more militant Scottish nationalist groups in the anti-nuclear campaign, and his own rumoured homosexuality. The latter allows MacRae’s loneliness to come across, displaying a vulnerability that makes him a more sympathetic figure.
There are several songs by Paterson and Edinburgh punk band Oi Polloi (the songs themselves are more musical theatre-style than punk) which seem out of place at times, but do break up the political monologue nicely. That’s not to say that the monologue ever drags; Paterson is eminently engaging in the role. However, the narrative isn’t entirely straightforward. Paterson, as MacRae, is trying to piece together what really happened on a Friday evening in 1985, presenting various bits of evidence as MacRae jumps from reminiscence to reminiscence. It’s an intriguing mystery, but as the truth of it was buried over thirty years ago, there can be no definite solution – apart from “if there is one thing we have learned, it is that we cannot trust the establishment in Scotland or in the United Kingdom”.