A PRODUCTION inspired by a real-life case of “mass hysteria” will have its world premiere at the Edinburgh Fringe.

The Afflicted fuses elements of horror and true crime to explore conspiracy, community, female agency and hysteria – a term largely now referred to as “mass psychogenic illness”.

Performed by an all-female cast, the dance theatre piece is based on real events in a town in New York state in 2011 when students at the same school began manifesting a mystery illness. A total of 24 young women experienced involuntary vocal ticks, bodily twitches and other symptoms.

New Scottish theatre company Groupwork have chosen not to name those involved nor the location of the outbreak, which also affected a young man and a woman in her mid-30s.

Presented as part of the Made In Scotland showcase, The Afflicted is the inaugural show by the collective, which is headed by director Finn Den Hertog and movement director Vicki Manderson.

The duo worked together on Square Go, Kieran Hurley and Gary McNair’s Fringe First-winning smash which returns to Edinburgh next month.

Both productions feature at Summerhall, home to Grid Iron’s Light Boxes in 2015. It was working on the dystopian tale that many of the Groupwork team first collaborated, says Den Hertog.

“Vicky was a performer and my brother Lewis was the

video designer,” he says. “We have a lot to thank Grid Iron for.”

Lewis’s sound and video design will be central to The Afflicted’s atmosphere of uncanny and unease, says Finn.

Also involved with Light Boxes was Jake Jeppson, the US playwright who wrote The Afflicted’s text.

Grid Iron, a long-serving Edinburgh company acclaimed for its site-specific productions, has also inspired Groupwork’s distinctively collaborative way of working.

“We’re interested in disrupting the hierarchy of theatre, that thing of a theatre commissions a play, they get a writer on board, they commission a director and so on,” says Den Hertog. “With Groupwork we’re asking: ‘What if we just start to work on something together?’ ‘Who has an idea?’

He adds: “Rather than serving one person’s idea, we’re serving what works best for the show.”

Movement and choreography is the starting point for Groupwork, explains the director.

Rather than come to him and Manderson with a finished script, Jeppson only began The Afflicted’s text while the pair started to develop a “physical script” during a research trip to New York.

“Vicki’s background is in dance,” says Den Hertog, who also notes the pair are partners. “She prefers theatre because she likes storytelling, whereas my background is theatre and I excited by dance. I prefer abstraction. These two worlds collided to make Groupwork.”

It was Jeppson who told the pair about the 2011 outbreak, where two dozen adolescent girls were struck with an illness causing uncontrollable movements, vocal tics and verbal outbursts.

Using the framework of a true crime podcast, The Afflicted will explore how the girls dealt with the disturbing condition and the community’s reaction to their unexplained behaviour.

The subject of multiple news features and documentaries, the young women may have been subjected to harsher treatment in another era, Den Hertog says.

Many of the 14 women and five men hanged at Salem, Massachusetts in the early 1690s were said to have displayed similar symptoms.

“These girls would have been tried as witches 400 years ago,” he says. “The phrase ‘witch-hunt’ has become common again during this time of unrest in America and here with the rise of populism. And this is a story about young women at a time when there’s a lot of discourse about female agency.”

He adds: “While using the word ‘hysteria’ is gendered, there’s a theory that suggests cases like this are subconscious projections from young women who feel stifled and are suppressing trauma; they can’t express it in any other way.”

The Afflicted: July 25 (preview), Tramway, Glasgow, 7.30pm, £9, £7 concs; August 3 to 25 (July 31 preview), Summerhall, Edinburgh, 7.30pm, £5 to £14.

Square Go: July 31 to August 25, Summerhall, Edinburgh, 9.15pm, £10 to £15. Tel: 0131 560 1581. www.summerhall.co.uk