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Thurso High School on crest of a wave

By Jean Gunn

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A TEAM of performers from Thurso High School are riding on the crest of a wave after coming second in the final of the Scottish Rock Challenge.

Their stirring performance of Iolaire commemorating those who lost their lives in a shipwreck off the Isle of Lewis on New Year’s Day 1919 proved to be a highly emotional one.

One of the lead performers Tom Gordon (15) said: “We were very surprised to come second, it was such an incredible feeling. The standards were so high – to come second in Scotland was such an incredible experience. It was so overwhelming for all of us.”

Tom, who was taking part in his second Rock Challenge, added: “I am feeling very good about the performance, I think we did it very well and respectfully. As a team we really pulled together and we have come a long way from the start.”

Performing to an audience of over 2000 people at Dundee’s Caird Hall on Friday, the pupils found the experience really nerve-wracking.

Describing Tom as a tremendously, talented young star, Kathy McAlonan, performance leader and director, said: “They have all worked so, so hard on it since September. To see it come to life on stage was very, very emotional and just fantastic.”

Kathy, who is an English teacher at Thurso High School, said that at the end of the performance the whole team, which consisted of nearly 90 dancers and around eight additional crew members, were all left feeling quite tearful and emotional, particularly after meeting some people from Lewis who had been “floored” by the production.

Consisting of pupils from all years, the director said it was a huge undertaking and it had been fantastic to see them all pulling together. “They are still buzzing,” she said.

Dancers acted out the fated voyage of naval yacht HMY Iolaire as it returned with war heroes. Survivors clung to masts and ropes to endure the night, with more than 200 people drowning just yards from the shoreline and the safety of home.

As well as winning the trophy for the runners-up, Thurso High came home with a number of excellence awards after scoring over eight points in eight of the 12 different categories – concept, drama, soundtrack, set design and function, costuming character, visual enhancement, entertainment and lighting.

Kathy said: “We were just delighted to get the excellence awards, when we got second place it was just phenomenal. We have never been placed that high ever so it is just great. The standard of the final was absolutely amazing.”

The local group have been supported by the Dounreay Communities Fund as well as the Thurso High School PTA, with staff and parents also
helping out with costumes. Thanking the Thurso community for all the support received, Kathy said: “It would not have been possible without their support.”

The Thurso High School Rock Challenge group, who came second at the Highlands 2019 Rock Challenge held at Eden Court at the beginning of April, were awarded a wild card to take part in the final after being selected from other high-scoring teams across Scotland.

For those that have not already seen Iolaire, a final performance will be put on at the Thurso Town Improvements Association Midsummer Madness event at the Damies on Sunday.

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