INCHKEITH is an island that has been wrapped in mystery for centuries, but now, Rob Jones and Michael O’Neill of Enormous Yes theatre company have found something they think you should know... and they’re ready to tell all at the Traverse this week.
It has long been claimed that military scientists used the small island in the Firth of Forth to carry out top secret examinations during the Second World War. However, the island’s dark history predates that by centuries.
Right now, though, O’Neill is keeping silent about what he and Jones have discovered. Playing it down, he insists there’s more to the play than the island’s wartime secrets.
“It is an exploration of the human desire to find something missing within ourselves,” he offers.
“There’s a collection of individuals in the play who strive to re-claim this missing part of themselves, often at risk to their own well-being and others’.” None the less, what started as a few sentences nestled in a history book has spiralled into a play about ‘military language deprivation experiments’, seemingly inspired by King James IV.
To explain: In 1443, a young James ordered two infants to be left on the island of Inchkeith to be brought up by a mute woman.
The aim was to uncover humanity’s original dialect - the language of God. James’ actions would later become known as The Forbidden Experiment - hence the title of the show.
“It was a strange bit of history that we were interested and excited by,” says O’Neill. “So Rob and I decided to take that and make a larger work, exploring that missing thing for which James was looking.”
There are no trustworthy records stating the outcome of the royal experiment. Sir Walter Scott considered that the two children would have imitated the sounds they heard from the woman or the animals on the island.
Robert Lindsay, of Pitscottie, however, states that people told him the two children spoke perfect Hebrew.
The experiment was undoubtedly a cruel and cold-hearted act towards two feral children, miles away from the bright minds and civilisation of the Scottish Enlightenment, but O’Neill says that the story just doesn’t stop there.
The island may be abandoned now, but the mysteries and repercussions still linger hundreds of years later.
The island, it appears, also served an important purpose during World War II.
“There were some interesting operations,” says O’Neill. “One being an attempt to mislead the Nazis into thinking that there would be an attack on Norway - they did some fake military manoeuvres on Inchkeith.”
O’Neill submitted a freedom of information request for data regarding the Army’s activities on Inchkeith during WWII and was astonished by what he found out.
“It was quite mysterious. The language experiments on Inchkeith were all to do with idioglossia and cryptophasia, a term used for a language that twins make up between themselves. We saw a similarity between King James and them - finding something that helps humanity, but was also violently wrong.”
O’Neill also believes that these sinister experiments went beyond the island, to other historical military operations including some connected to the atomic bomb through the Manhattan Project.
“The play is about the idea of striving for something good... while knowing it can destroy other people too.
“These people thought they were doing something great for mankind. But to do the research and build the weaponry, they were going to make thousands suffer and die.”
Enormous Yes are no strangers to conspiracy. Their previous productions have featured libertarian cults and time-travelling conquistadors, but The Forbidden Experiment could be their most thought-provoking to date.
O’Neill says, “What I’m interested in doing is saying, ‘keep rethinking what you believe,’ don’t settle into ideology and be open to new things coming your way.”
The Forbidden Experiment, Traverse Theatre, Cambridge Street, tomorrow-Saturday, 8pm, £12.50-£15.50, 0131-228 1404