Outlying Islands

Oct 2 2014 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩     Too grounded

Traverse Theatre Wed 1 – Sat 4 Oct 2014

A fascinating exploration of human impulses lies behind Outlying Islands at the Traverse, but the uneven quality of some of the production means that it falls short.


Helen Mackay and Martin Richardson. Photo credit: Graham Riddell

Borders-based Firebrand’s touring revival of David Greig’s intriguing 2002 play depicts two young Cambridge-educated naturalists who arrive on a remote, uninhabited Scottish island.

John, a buttoned-up native of Edinburgh, and Robert, a free-spirited, almost amoral Englishman, have been sent by Westminster in 1939, apparently to conduct a wildlife survey.

They are accompanied by Kirk, the owner of grazing rights on the island, whose only interest is the compensation he can get out of the Ministry, and his niece Ellen. It soon emerges that government interest in the island extends far beyond the Leach’s petrel, while Ellen’s awakening from her sheltered upbringing leads to a dangerous love triangle.

As always with David Greig, there are grand and important themes on display – science and nature, the conflict between rationality and the most basic human impulses, all played out under the shadow of approaching war.

a fluid, graceful, assured rhythm

However, the combination of the grandly poetic and the earthily ludicrous that Greig achieves so magnificently in later works such as Dunsinane or Prudencia Hart is rather less secure here. The second act is unwieldy, and requires more assured performances than those on display. Helen Mackay’s elemental Ellen convincingly portrays the character’s sexual awakening, but Martin Richardson’s Robert is too diffident and self-effacing to be the unrestricted outsider he claims.

James Rottger and Martin Richardson. Photo credit: Liindsay Ross

James Rottger and Martin Richardson. Photo credit: Lindsay Ross

James Rottger’s John is suitably repressed, but with two characters who seem to represent conflicting sides of the human psyche, there needs to be a little more subtlety than is on display here. They also need to be a little more comfortable with the physical side of the performance – not the ‘nudity and scenes of a sexual nature’ the audience are warned about, which work just fine, but rather in the moments of comedy, which fall flat.

Crawford Logan’s depiction of two contrasting roles is much more successful, making Kirk appear a more rounded character than he might.

Director Richard Baron maintains a fluid, graceful, assured rhythm. However, there is an artificiality to the production that means it never completely convinces. Jon Beales’s elegant sound design and Ken Harrison’s intriguing set both impress on their own terms, but are too noticeable in themselves rather than being fully integrated. As a result, the production, while always interesting, never really takes flight.

Running time 2 hours 10 minutes including interval
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge Street, EH1 2ED
Wed 1 – Sat 4 Oct 2014
Evenings 8 pm, Matinee Sat 2.30 pm
Tickets and details at: www.traverse.co.uk
Company website: www.firebrandtheatre.co.uk

Click on the image below to purchase the script from Amazon

Outlying Islands on tour Autumn 2014:

October 1-4: Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
October 5: Birnam Arts, Birnam
October 7-8: Tait Hall, Kelso
October 9: Eastgate Theatre, Peebles
October 11: The Fullarton, Castle Douglas
October 13: Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock
October 14: Ayr Gaiety Theatre, Ayr
October 16: Dundee Rep, Dundee
October 17-18: Macrobert, Stirling
October 19: Websters, Glasgow


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