Published: 05/10/2015 12:11 - Updated: 05/10/2015 12:20

Time travelling cat is your guide to a century of Ross-shire history

The flower fairies get ready to rehearse their scene.
The flower fairies get ready to rehearse their scene.

FOR director Karrie Marshall, it is less a case of whether things will be alright on the night for community play Nine Lives Theory as who might be there on the night.

"It’s so variable with us because people have got different needs," she said.

"We have got people with dementia, people with mental health issues, and then the general public and families with children, so on the actual night of the show, we won’t know until literally five minutes before who’s going to be in it. It could be anything from 12 people to about 35. We’ll just see how it turns out on the night."

With a potential cast ranging from five to 95 — the eight month year old baby who was to have taken part has now dropped out of the production — Nine Lives Theory is being produced as part of Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival, and takes as its starting point a local tragedy, the destruction of the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Natal in the Cromarty Forth 100 years ago with the loss of 421 lives, including several children.

One "crew member" who did survive was the ship’s cat Rudolph, who in the play becomes a symbol of the endurance of the communities of Easter Ross.

Marshall and her social enterprise company Creativity in Care had already been working on the cat theme with dementia sufferers in the area, using T.S. Eliot’s poem The Naming of Cats and its suggestion that all cats have three names to explore identity.

"That led on to community history because we found that with people with dementia community history, particularly in rural areas, can be at least as significant as individual memory," Marshall explained.

When they discovered that the cat had been among the survivors of the Natal, the two themes began to come together.

"It all developed from there really," Marshall added.

"Someone wrote a story about the cat surviving, then someone came up with a story about the cat going up to the moon and a lady in her 90s suggested that maybe it gets moondust and becomes a time-travelling cat, so it all slotted together. The cat feels like it represents resilience and hope and bears witness to every scene."

The cast for the war time scene in rehearsal.
The cast for the war time scene in rehearsal.

The time-travelling feline follows the history of the area through the loss of the 51st Highland Division at St Valery in World War II, the opening and closure of the Invergordon smelter, down to Invergordon’s recent success in attracting cruise ships to the region.

"It’s interesting that the smelter closed at Hogmanay and the Natal went down at Hogmanay," Marshall added.

"You have what is supposed to be a public celebration of joy and optimism, yet it is linked to these two traumatic events."

Helping tell these stories are recordings of people sharing their memories of events and photographs and films shot by the local community. Local writers and musicians have also made their contribution to the play.

"There are people in the community who are really amazing creative writers that we didn’t know about until now," Marshall added.

"We’ve also had people mixing with other folk they wouldn’t normally mix with, which is wonderful. We have people coming out of care homes, people who live in supported accommodation, and then the general public, who have just been fantastic. People have been naturally supporting each other."

It might not be the most polished show to be performed at Eden Court, but it does reflect the importance of community. Marshall believes, and is the most ambitious project Creativity in Care have undertaken.

"It will be interesting to see who wants to continue," she said.

"I’m really interested in communities and how they work. After the show we’ll have a little discussion with people about what is community and how we can create communities that are inclusive and more dementia friendly.

"Whether that gets conveyed in film, books or exhibitions doesn’t matter. It’s finding a way for voices to be heard."

Nine Lives Theory will be performed at Eden Court’s OneTouch Theatre on Wednesday 7th October at 7pm; Invergordon Arts Centre on Thursday 8th at 1.30pm and 7pm; and the Perrins Centre, Alness, on Friday 9th at 7pm.

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