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Scotland's HIV blood scandal turned into play for European horror-fest

A NEW play telling the story of the NHS contaminated blood scandal through the experiences of Scots haemophiliacs will premiere in Sweden as part of a horror theatre festival.

Factor 9, by Inverness-based theatre company Dogstar, has been inspired by what has been deemed the greatest disaster in the history of the NHS, when thousands of haemophiliacs and other patients were infected with HIV and hepatitis C through "bad blood" products during the 1970s and 1980s.

The play will open in March at Swedish independent theatre company Profilteatern's Festival of Horror & Art, which is being held as part of the European Capital of Culture year in Umea, in northern Sweden. The production will then go to Denmark and Wales before a four-week Scottish tour in April, including performances in Stornoway, Ullapool, Aberdeen, Inverness, Greenock, Paisley and Edinburgh.

The opening is expected to coincide with the final report of the long-running Penrose Inquiry into the issue, which is due to be published in March.

Playwright Hamish MacDonald said: "It is opening as part of a horror theatre festival, but it is not gothic horror or classic horror in the sense that you might expect.

"However, when you look back at a lot of the coverage of this issue, you will find the word 'horror' recurs frequently. This isn't horror that has been created in a film studio, it is what happened to people and what is still happening to people."

The play is based on the stories of Scots haemophiliacs Robert Mackie, who was infected with HIV and hepatitis C through contaminated blood products, and Bruce Norval, who contracted hepatitis C.

MacDonald added: "We have tried to look at the historical background of this whole thing … the more and more you dig into it, the more and more potential there seems to be to be horrified and outraged at what you discover."

Among the grim details which have emerged about the scandal include how inmates in US prisons were paid to donate blood, despite authorities knowing they had Aids and hepatitis. The blood was then exported around the world to be used in the manufacture of clotting agents for haemophiliacs.

One line from the play, based on Mackie's testimony, says: "Where we lived was a backwater. We knew nothing about Aids. Now? I could rhyme off this or that. How from the off a prominent blood specialist had warned about prison blood, about skid row blood."

Another, based on Norval's story, says: "I am 15 years old when the sweats begin. I waken during the night. The bed is so drenched I think I have wet it. There is lethargy. Strength-sapping surges that leave me weak and breathless. I am checked, my bloods taken, no diagnosis is given for my condition. They tell my mother it's growing pains and adolescence."

The production will reunite several of the team who worked on Dogstar Theatre's successful play The Tailor Of Inverness, including actor Matthew Zajac, director Ben Harrison and video designer Tim Reid.

Norval, who will be travelling to Sweden for the opening of the play, said he hoped other artists would also now tackle the subject.

"It is very hard to get people to read about things that are so awful - when you turn them into a piece of drama, people suddenly become more able to look at them."

Norval said reading the script had been a "profound" experience and triggered many emotions.

He added: "There are too many people that have been lost. I think art needs to record what happened."

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