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The Mysterious Death of Netta Fornario

The Mysterious Death of Netta Fornario at Walls public hall, Monday 13 June

A sudden death in Iona reached across land, sea and time to enthral playgoers in Shetland this week.

The Mysterious Death of Netta Fornario, by Mull Theatre and Wildbird, probed into the dark corners of this young lady’s demise and into the still darker corners of the human psyche, with chilling effect.

The apparently exotic Netta Fornario was found dead in Iona in 1929, lying on a cross cut from turf, naked but for a silver necklace under her black cloak. On her feet were lesions from going barefoot around the isle, in her manicured hand incomprehensible letters from an unknown writer.

Was it murder or suicide? Rumours of witchery and strange goings-on in the night were already circulating before her death. Ingredients of a gothic thriller had landed on our very own Shetland strand

A small dynamic cast and a carefully staged setting, held a packed country hall in stunned silence, as the last days of the deceased were examined against the experiences of the two witnesses.

Experiences that involved detailed scrutiny, not only of their own relationship with the dead woman, but their relationship with significant events in the past which somehow connected all three.

Rebecca Sloyan as flamboyant Netta, mesmerised her audience as well as the troubled island visitor Doctor Tyler, whose unease was played with conviction by Greg Powrie.

The third figure in this unsettling ménage a trios was the quiet and tragic, young, war-widowed landlady Ruth, empathetically played by Mairi Philips, whose mysterious afflicted son was never to be seen about their lodging, but was, like her late husband and the ghosts of the Great War, a constant presence on the scene.

Was this strange young woman Netta Fornario, given to plunging dangerously into the sea while mouthing mysterious chants or spells, deranged in some way? Or, was she consorting dangerously? Flirting with things of the nether-world? These possibilities are searchingly scrutinised by the two survivors, until their own demons begin to emerge from the past.

The cast were certainly convincing in their exploration, which required them to deliver constant tension at high throttle, yet holding enough in reserve to really freak their audience at key moments

Their revelations shocked and intrigued at once. The players were aided and abetted by clever use of digital technology, which instantly transformed the confines of a suffocating small island bedroom into the trenches of Flanders, or followed members of the cast on perambulations about Iona, giving a liberating new dimension to a compact set.

Writer/director Chris Lee is certainly to be congratulated on the staging of his script, which was not confined to the suffocating tense atmosphere conjured of the Walls Hall, but by gothic magic, flung open the walls to the surrounding influences, from the crashing surf of Iona to the whizz of bullets slicing overhead in the dugouts of war

Les Lowes

 

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