Leith arts company launches SS Explorer play at dockers club

Rehearsal photo of Chris Harrison as ships cook, wearing the original overalls worn by Jim Yorkston, cook on the Explorer in the 1970s. Pic: Eric Robinson.
Rehearsal photo of Chris Harrison as ships cook, wearing the original overalls worn by Jim Yorkston, cook on the Explorer in the 1970s. Pic: Eric Robinson.
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Leith- based theatre company, Citadel Arts Group presents Sea Changes written by Jim Brown and directed by Mark Kydd, at the Leith Dockers Club tomorrow night.

Sea Changes is inspired by stories and memories of the scientists, officers, cook and crew who worked on board Leith’s SS Explorer. The story follows a young man named Sean, who has almost finished his time at Aberdeen's Craiginches prison, and is offered a chance to finish his sentence as a crew member- a scheme that existed at the Craiginches jail. Life on the Explorer proves as challenging as prison for the young man.

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The Explorer played an important part in Scotland’s maritime history. Our last surviving, custom-built fisheries research vessel, she is being restored in Leith dock.

Citadel’s research uncovered stories of the Explorer as a spy ship listening in to Russian subs north of Norway. John Dunn, a researcher on the Explorer, said that the research conducted on board indicated the early signs of global warming through its research of sea creatures called Copepods.

A book of some of the crews memories will be launched on the opening night of the play and will be followed by a Q&A session with Jim Yorkston, the ship's cook.

The play came to fruition after Citadel Arts Group were approached by Andy Marjoribanks, chair of the SS Explorer preservation society, to write a play on the ship in order to help raise awareness for the ongoing fundraising efforts to restore the SS Explorer.

The Explorer is currently berthed in Leith, her original port of registry, although she was launched by Alexander Hall of Aberdeen in 1955. Since decommissioning in 1984, the ship has had a chequered history including two close encounters with the breakers. She was one of the last ships built in Scotland equipped with a traditional reciprocating steam engine and was the last such vessel registered to the port of Leith.

Liz Hare, artistic director of Citadel Arts Group, said “…people have shared some great stories with us which we have collected into an attractive book and have inspired a humorous, warm hearted play. Sea Changes is a celebration of the achievements of Leith - and Scotland’s - maritime heritage.”

She added that Citadel Arts Group hopes to release a bitesize version of the play to tour Edinburgh’s school circuit after the Summer.