EMMA Anderson is offering a lunch date with a difference tomorrow — one where mummification is on the menu.
The Inverness actress is making her second appearance at the Play Pieces lunchtime theatre strand in the city centre. Her previous appearance, the two-hander Working Holiday with Melissa Paterson, was Play Pieces first sell out show, despite or perhaps because of themes of prostitution and deception.
"Play Pieces is such a great platform for emerging artists," Anderson said.
With The Beautiful House, she turns her attention from sex to death in a story of illegal mummification where a normally dispassionate professional is disturbed by personal links to her latest "client".
"The idea came when I found out what the translation for the pre-nefr, the place of mummification, was — the Beautiful House," Anderson explained.
Further inspiration came from two friends from Inverness who have started working in the field of forensic art. One of them works at the University of Dundee with world renowned forensic scientist Sue Black, who is also from Inverness, on the type of facial reconstructions recently given high profile by the discovery of King Richard III’s remains beneath a Leicester car park.
"In Dundee my friend has the opportunity to work with people who have donated their bodies to medical science, so I asked her to keep an emotional diary of her work," Anderson continued.
In researching the play, Anderson also collected memoirs from and interviewed others who were professionally involved with death and the dying, including nurses and a heart surgeon.
"One of the things I found out was that with nurses, when someone dies, they keep talking to the body," Anderson said.
"I was quite moved by that level of respect."
Another influence was Channel 4 documentary Mummifying Alan, where terminally ill Alan Billis agreed to donate his body to a team of scientists attempting to recreate ancient Egyptian mummification techniques.
All these influences fed into the story of Frankie Fisher, who follows the traditions of her Egyptian grandmother to run the world’s last and highly illegal Beautiful House in the remote Highlands of Scotland.
However, when the latest body to appear on her mummification slab is her beloved former teacher and brother-in-law, Frankie’s professionally dispassionate facade soon begins to crumble.
"The character is someone who is coming to the end of her tether because she is working on someone she loves," Anderson explained.
"It’s a play about isolation as well, which is why I set it in the Highlands. It’s not spelt out exactly where it is, but you could probably guess that it’s somewhere in the north-west."
Though from the Highlands herself, Anderson is now based in Edinburgh and started rehearsals for "The Beautiful House" immediately after finishing her run on her one-woman Fringe show Dark Matter, written by Chris Lee, her co-director and co-performer in The Beautiful House and director of Working Holiday. The play was presented as part of the British Council Edinburgh Showcase, and so received visitors from as far away as Brazil and India potentially interested in staging the show.
"I jumped straight on the train from Edinburgh and missed all the good parties," Anderson laughed.
As its name suggests, the well reviewed Dark Matter is also a dark play dealing with mental illness and revenge, though when asked if she sees a link between that and her latest Play Pieces offering, Anderson laughs that both feature "crazy women".
"But I enjoy playing crazy women because there is a depth to them," she added.
If there is a possibility of Dark Matter being performed in exotic locations, Anderson is hoping that The Beautiful House will be performed somewhere closer to home — but highly appropriate given the subject matter.
She has been in touch with Summerhall, the former Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies in Edinburgh, about staging The Beautiful House in the college turned venue’s former dissection room.
"It would also be nice to take theatre from the Highlands down to the Central Belt instead of it always going the other way," she said.
• The Beautiful House, written by Emma Anderson and directed and performed by Emma Anderson and Chris Lee, is Play Pieces lunchtime theatre presentation at the Spectrum Centre, Farraline Park, Inverness on Saturday 7th September.
Doors open at 12.30pm with the performance getting under way at 1pm.
Tickets cost £10, which includes lunch.