“Wide, invigorating views in a small space”
“‘Scuse my French,” says birdwatcher John – repeatedly. This thoroughly decent young man, BA. Cantab., has had enough – again! The year is 1939 and John is on the remotest of the Western Isles with stinking socks and his gimlet-eyed pal, Robert, who is bound to get the sweet girl first. You might hear the romantic airs of Local Hero within Outlying Islands, for the Celtic soundscape is lovely, but instead I see a fab, screwed up Tintin-esque adventure amongst the fork tailed petrels.
I reckon playwright David Greig likes Hergé’s impeccable line, after all, he did adapt Tintin in Tibet for a Christmas show at the Barbican in 2005. Outlying Islands has the same startling and redemptive quality of that blameless story. However, the play’s audience also sees scary biological warfare and delightful sex.
It is the sharp clarity of the piece that impresses most. The first lines open with “I have noticed,” and it as if the audience are the ones with the binoculars, watching intently and enjoying what they discover. A bright and acute script paired with alert, insightful direction by Richard Baron is as effective as fixer in old style photographic processing, which you’ll be reminded of. We get focus and definition all throughout, with flashbulbs and nae pixels.
We are way out west, literally in a rock burrow, and cinematically in Laurel and Hardy territory. Their 1937 film is Ellen’s favourite but for her ‘Free’ church uncle, Kirk (!), the cinema is a place of darkness where only the Fallen gather. London, by way of the same Calvinist conviction, is a ‘gannetry of random defecation’. What’s a young woman to do – apart from prepare puffin stew? Ellen’s happiness at finding an answer in unforeseen liberty is wonderful, and Helen MacKay is jubilant in the role. Nice John or Johnny, played straight and true by James Rotger, is not a happy chappie when confronted by deep feelings – arguably like Tintin – therefore his discomfort, naked on the kitchen table, is understandable. Martin Richardson is utterly convincing as Robert. Probably amoral, certainly sensitive, fiercely rational, and undoubtedly bad for Kirk’s health, he has the dash of the pagan about him. Crawford Logan has the unsympathetic (adult) roles, playing Kirk, who is mean in spirit, calculating, a relic to be parodied, and, very briefly, the Captain of the ship that returns to take them off the island and back to …. Ullapool?
During the referendum campaign David Greig spoke of Scotland and a Scottish population that had been wearing UK goggles for long enough: ‘goggles which say you never ask questions’. ‘Outlying Islands’ has come back, post Yes/No, and offers wide, invigorating views in a small space. You might pick holes at some cartoonish excess or at the fly-away innocence of the plot or even at some speech bubble dialogue, but I saw an excellent production from Firebrand Theatre; the same company that brought ‘Blackbird’ (not Leach’s petrel) to Summerhall in February. That was outstanding too.
Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 1 October)
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