A Gothic mystery from Iona


The Mysterious Death of Netta Fornario, a chilling tale of murder, magic and madness, will be be performed in Lewis and Harris this summer.

Set on the Isle of Iona, the play is based on true events: on the 17th of November 1929, Netta Fornario, aged 32, a practicing Golden Dawn magician, was found dead on Iona. Naked apart from a silver necklace, she was lying on a cross cut from turf with a knife nearby, and with no visible injuries except a strange pattern of cuts on her heels. Clutched in her perfectly manicured hand was a sheaf of incomprehensible letters from an unidentified stranger. Her death remains a mystery to this day.

Writer/director Chris Lee explains more: “I first came across Netta Fornario and the strange story of her tragic death on Iona whilst researching traditional tales for a possible Christmas show. I knew instantly that I wanted to tell her story, or more accurately, a story with a version of Netta at the heart of it; and that the roots of this telling lay in the late 19th and early 20th century’s fascination with all things Gothic. Stories such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and many of the works of Robert Louis Stevenson, Algernon Blackwood, Sheridan Le Fanu, M. R. James and Arthur Conan Doyle, that fascinate, attract and repulse at the same time. This kind of tale touches something universal in us, something subconscious that is tied up with our own fear of death, moral degradation, and loss of control; something that seems at the same time to be inextricably linked to our most dangerous desires.

“In The Mysterious Death of Netta Fornario, I have taken the scant facts around Netta’s strange demise, and used them to create a Gothic story of my own.”

A stylish production of a newly commissioned script, using exciting imaging techniques to create a stunning visual landscape, this marks the first collaboration between two Highland-based theatre-makers, the long-established Mull Theatre (from the Isle of Mull) and one of Scotland’s most exciting new creative companies, Wildbird (from Moray). These companies are brought together and the production is funded by North by North-East, the Northern Scottish Touring Fund. The tour within Argyll and the Shetlands is funded by Scotland’s Islands 2011.

The play will be performed in Harris in Leverburgh Village Hall on June 9 at 7.30pm and in the Bernera Community Centre on June 10 also at 7.30pm.