“The core strength of this show lies in O’Neill’s luridly brilliant writing and performance around the theme, whether he’s playing a crazed young King James, or a redneck 1940s dad dying of radiation sickness in the desert.”

– Joyce McMillian, The Scotsman

“Michael John O’Neill’s well-balanced and witty script gives an untroubled transition through moments of sadness and romance, comedy and real tragedy”

– Christine Irvine, TV Bomb

“a multi-media Pandora’s box […] An enormous yes for a bright and imaginative company”

– Mark Fisher, The Guardian


… the king caused tak ane dumb woman, and pat hir in Inchkeith and gave hir two bairnes with hir…

In 1493 a young King James IV of Scotland ordered that two infants be left on the island of Inchkeith in the Firth of Forth to be reared by a mute woman. He hoped to uncover humanity’s original language; the words Adam shared with his God.

What James did became known as the forbidden experiment.

In 2009 we issued an FOI for data on the British Army’s activities on Inchkeith during the Second World War. We wanted to know about the MoD’s interest in language deprivation, and about the forbidden thoughts that became forbidden acts once again on that lonely island in the Firth of Forth.

It’s taken some time, but we think we’ve found something. Something we think you should know.


A quasi-historical riff on the Prometheus story and an examination of guilt, The Forbidden Experiment followed Scottish King James IV’s experiments into language deprivation with two children and a mute woman in 1493, while providing snapshots of a 1944 New Mexico family transforming into mutants under Robert Oppenheimer’s nuclear skies.

These strands were tied together with music, dance, animation and storytelling in an ‘autobiographical’ narrative that brought Michael to an island in the firth of forth that sat fixed at the centre of all three stories, to meet a silent figure left there waiting for the end of the experiment.

The Forbidden Experiment was the recipient of the 2014 Platform 18 Award, and was performed at The Arches and the Traverse as part of the Behaviour festival in April and May 2014.