Friday, 3 October 2014

Outlying Islands

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars
There are moments in David Greig's 2002 play when it looks like it
might become a treatise on how a ruling elite can co-opt an entire
community for their cause. It is true that the two Cambridge
naturalists investigating the bird-life on a remote Scottish island
prior to the outbreak of World War Two are agents of the state on
unwitting reconnaissance. Once the island's dour custodian Kirk is out
of the way, however, the nature-watch conducted by the mercurial Robert
and his wet-behind-the-ears sidekick John takes on an altogether more
liberating tone. This is particularly the case where Kirk's niece Ellen
is concerned.

By the second half, the trio are en route to creating a pagan Eden for
themselves a million miles from buttoned-up mainland conventions. It is
here where things really begin to fly in Richard Baron's up close and
personal touring revival for the Borders-based Firebrand company in
partnership with Heart of Hawick. One minute Robert and John are doing
an accidental slapstick routine with Kirk's body, the next the play's
simmering erotic undercurrent has given way to full on sexual
awakenings as human nature and animal mentality merge as one.

This is performed with such poetically realised force by James Rottger
as John, Martin Richardson as Robert and Helen Mackay as Ellen that it
all but becomes an anthropological dance or primal mating ritual, with
Ellen's libertine siren spirit leading the charge. It is this desire
for purity that makes Greig's play so quietly subversive. Only when
Crawford Logan's Captain prepares to take Ellen and John back to a
civilisation where war rather than free love looks set to reign does
reality finally bite.

The Herald, October 3rd 2014


ends


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