If this show was a stick of rock, it would have “Anger” written all the way through it in blood red: specifically anger at the medical, commercial and political establishments in both the US and UK which, during the 1980s, allowed thousands of haemophiliacs to be infected with Hepatitis C and/or HIV – with horrendous consequences for themselves, their partners, and their families.
It's these people's stories that are important – as import as the need for us to remember that, whatever the cause, ends never justify means.
Stewart Porter and Matthew Zajac here ably perform a collage of scenes which mixes the personal testaments of two men living with haemophilia and a dramatised global medical history of research into haemophilia. The latter includes the subsequent production, distribution and use of blood products, at least some of which were contaminated by their origins in US prisons.
Early on, writer Hamish MacDonald makes the point that some of the earliest research into haemophilia during the 1940s was carried out by medical staff on prisoners in the Nazi concentration camps. One specific consequence of this was the development of the Nuremberg Code, which set out basic ethical principles concerning the use of humans in medical experimentation. The first–and most important–of these is “voluntary consent; a person must be capable of making an absolutely informed and uncoerced decision about the risks and benefits of taking part in experimentation. As this play shows, that code was breached, quite deliberately, during the early days of research into HIV and AIDS--right here in Edinburgh.
Factor 9 is not an easy watch, especially when it channels the experiences of Bruce Norval and Robert Mackie–two lives stunted and almost destroyed not by their particular genetic condition, but by all-too-human prejudice, ignorance and fear; in one man’s case a potential nursing career ended when he was suddenly considered an "unacceptable infection risk" during the early years of the spread of HIV. It's a terrible reminder of a time not long ago, when society's fear and prejudice made life almost unbearable for its most fragile members. But there was worse to come.
Given the numerous facts, especially dates, involved in explaining this under-the-radar scandal, it's useful that director Ben Harrison opts to include them in atmospheric video montages by Tim Reid, projected onto a grid-like set that's one part old medical laboratory, one part hospital waiting room. Yet there are other reminders of the passage of time, including the regular ringing of a telephone, to indicate that another person affected by the contamination scandal has died. As we're told in no uncertain terms, Norval and Mackie are increasingly rare among (as one official memo described them) "these unfortunate individuals"–they're still alive.
Unlike the majority of shows on the Fringe these days, Factor 9 runs for more than an hour, but still feels in some respects too short, with one revelation being almost overshadowed by the next. But perhaps that's missing the point: it's these people's stories that are important – as import as the need for us to remember that, whatever the cause, ends never justify means.