A LIGHT-HEARTED romp featuring starvation, scurvy, cannibalism and some jolly tunes comes to the Borders next week.

The new play by Peter Arnott for Mull Theatre, Unspotted Snow, is based on the tale of Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated expedition to discover the Northwest Passage.

In 1845, Franklin and 129 men sailed off to discover a route from the Atlantic to the Pacific via the north coast of Canada, but were never seen again.

A bold and adventurous account of tragedy, mishap, folly, arrogance and madness, it also serves as a cautionary tale of true-blue British heroism – and some ruthless news management.

After nine years, news of the expedition was at last brought to London by the remarkable Orcadian explorer and physician John Rae, who worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company.

The news he brought was both tragic and grizzly. Unfortunately for Rae, it was the wrong story – true, but wrong in that it was not the story that Victorian England wanted.

Unspotted Snow is a play of two halves: the first set on the barren ice flows of the Arctic and the second in the equally inhospitable environment of Lady Jane Franklin’s drawing room.

As playwright Arnott explained, unlike Franklin and the majority of 19th century British explorers, Rae was uninterested in conquest and the imposition of religious, commercial, or imperial norms on the wilderness.

“Like John Muir in California, he anticipated a much more ‘modern’ holistic approach to the natural world, not seeing people as being conquerors of empty space but as inhabitants of a planet shared with other forms of life,” he said.

The story of the expedition has fascinated the general public, scientists and explorers for over 150 years.

From early findings of frozen corpses and a few artefacts to the very recent discoveries of the expedition’s boats, the Erebus (found 2014) and the Terror (found 2016), successive generations have been enthralled by the ambition and daring-do of the explorers and by their terrifying, macabre fate.

That fascination, and the split between two realities, is emphasised by the two-part nature of the play.

“In the first half, a kind of horror-comedy, we have an encounter between three of the last survivors of Franklin’s expedition and some Inuit ladies to whom they utterly fail to explain themselves,” explained Arnott.

“And then, in a curious echo of that, we have the inhospitable wilderness of Lady Franklin’s Drawing Room, where John Rae again finds himself telling a story that his audience simply cannot, or will not, understand.”

Unspotted Snow will be performed at the MacArts in Galashiels on Thursday, May 9 and the following evening at the Eastgate Theatre in Peebles.

Tickets for the Galashiels performance, priced at £12 and £10, are available from the box office at 01896 756 852.

And the Eastgate performance tickets, priced at £14, £12 and £6 for Under 15s, are available on 01721 725777, or online at www.eastgatearts.com

Both performances begin at 7.30pm.