by Margaret Chrystall
LIKE a flawlessly-knitted garment created by a master knitter, Philip Paris’s play Casting Off is a perfect fit for this year’s Luminate Festival’s Highland events.
The Scotland-wide festival celebrates creativity and ageing with a series of events planned in the Highlands throughout October.
But it was just chance that Philip’s play and the four performances he’d already booked into halls in Dornoch, Nairn, Inverness and Portmahomack were such a good match for Luminate.
"I suppose it must have been fate," laughed Philip, who had written a series of fiction and non-fiction books before immersing himself in the art of writing radio and now stage drama.
"I’ve wanted to be a playwright since the age of eight, long before I had ever been to a theatre or seen a drama, though I’ve no idea where the desire came from!" said Philip, whose best-known book is probably his novel The Italian Chapel — inspired by seeing the building on a visit to Orkney.
Philip wrote as a journalist at first.
"I’ve worked for most of my life in the graphic arts industry, and for several years was a journalist on trade magazines.
"But in 2005 I had a complete life change when I moved to the Highlands."
Though Philip had planned then to get down to writing plays, the Italian chapel got in the way.
"I had a lot of ideas for plays and intended to start writing some of them."
But honeymooning on Orkney, Philip saw the Italian chapel — two Nissen huts transformed by Italian POWs during World War II into a beautifully-decorated chapel.
"I spent every spare minute I had over the following years researching the events surrounding the creation of the chapel, along with writing my first novel and then the non-fiction Orkney’s Italian Chapel: The True Story Of An Icon."
Two more non-fiction books followed, Philip’s "mini-memoir" Nylon Kid and a planned play about domestic abuse which became his 2012 novel Men Cry Alone.
But since then, Philip has been working hard on learning the art of playwriting.
"Since coming up to the Highlands I’ve started going to a lot more theatre and in the last three years I’ve been trying to learn the craft and writing stage and radio drama, then sending them off to get feedback from people who are a lot more knowledgeable than I am!
"I’m still learning — and no doubt I’ve still got a long way to go — but I’ve managed to get the various elements together hopefully sufficiently well for Casting Off!"
As part of his learning process, Philip decided to go along to the Drama Lab sessions run by John Batty at Eden Court.
"When I was trying to understand the craft of drama I went going along there for a couple of seasons to understand it from the actors point of view."
Having met the play’s director Dave Smith — well-known for writing and directing his own productions as half of the Right Lines team — Philip now found his Casting Off cast at Drama Lab!
"I’d met Dave once before in Tain and approached him with the idea and he was very keen to be involved.
"I sent him the script and then we worked on it together for two or three months to get it into a form we were both happy with.
"He’s been extremely helpful and I’ve loved working with him."
Philip’s play centres on three friends who live in a care home facing up to a crisis that means they have to fall back on their own creative thinking – and the help of younger people – when rising fees risk their future at the home.
Philip saiId: "I wanted to write a drama based in the Highlands with a contemporary theme – and for it to be a comedy.
"The idea of the fees going up is a topical one . As a writer that gave me the heart of the drama within the play and the chance to explore some other things – friendship and loneliness and sacrifice and also how reaching out to strangers can completely change our lives."
Philip said: "The actresses are not professionals but very much into drama — one of them is in her third year of a drama and performance degree course at Inverness UHI —and they all know each other through the Drama Lab workshops.
"I got to know them there and they were all very keen to get involved, so it all just came together!"
Philip has also enjoyed ball the processes of putting on a play.
"We’ve been busy over the past couple of months with all the elements — publicity, marketing, props. The three women are always knitting onstage and the knitting becomes part of the storyline — that’s where the name Casting Off comes from.
"So there are lots of knitting props being produced by various friends. My wife is a very good knitter and she has a local team of knitters helping out."
Casting Off is at: Dornoch Social Club on Friday, October 2; Nairn Community Centre on Saturday, October 3; Florians Theatre, Inverness, on Friday, October 9; Carnegie Hall, Portmahomack, on Saturday, October 10. For full details on tickets go to www.luminatescotland.org