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Review: Outlying Islands, at King’s Head Theatre

The Wicker Man meets Lord of the Flies in David Greig’s play set on a remote island in the Outer Hebrides

25 January, 2019 — By Jack Courtney O’Connor

Jack McMillan and Tom Machell in Outlying Islands. Photos: Clive Barda

DAVID Greig’s two-act play, first seen in 2002 at the Edinburgh Festival, tells the tale of two ornithologists: John (Jack McMillan) and Robert (Tom Machell). Sent by the government, they arrive on a remote island in the Outer Hebrides in 1939, just prior to the Second World War to conduct a survey of bird life.

Greig’s piece is a fiction; however, he does draw specifically from the Scottish island Gruinard, which was used to experiment with chemical weaponry in anticipation of possible chemical warfare with Nazi Germany. The sole proprietor of the play’s fictional island which our two naturalists have to deal with is the allegorically named Kirk (nicely played by Ken Drury) – a royal pain in the proverbial – a low-church preacher and sheep farmer, and his niece Ellen (Rose Wardlaw), who is a curious mixture of lack of sophistication and sexuality.

If Kirk represents the Christian values of the western world – with a keen eye for profit – then Ellen can be seen as a throwback to the old Celtic pagan place. She has no use for religion and is more influenced by the moving pictures of Laurel and Hardy!

Rose Wardlaw and Jack McMillan in Outlying Islands

The two young men do not just confine themselves to birdlife: razorbills and kittiwakes can wait, they are drawn closer to the young woman and their own sexual desires.

With the demise of Kirk after a violent confrontation with Robert, the three remaining occupants of the Rock revert to pagan ritualism.

This is a multi-layered piece with subversive elements of state connivance, paganism, anarchy and magical realism: The Wicker Man meets Lord of the Flies.

This is a fine production, with excellent stage management by Timothy Kelly and special effects. However, director Jessica Lazar concentrates on character development at the expense of pace, which tends to make the plot overdrawn or perhaps it is a weakness in the play’s structure?

Until February 2
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