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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me @markffisher and @writeabouttheat I am an Edinburgh-based freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian, Scotland on Sunday and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success, published in February 2012 and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers published in July 2015. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide. See my website for more information and comprehensive Scottish theatre links.
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Friday, September 05, 2008

Outlying Islands

© Mark Fisher - published in Northings - Hi-Arts Journal

OUTLYING ISLANDS (Pitlochry Festival Theatre, 3 September 2008)


FIVE YEARS after Outlying Islands made its debut at Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre in 2002, playwright David Greig translated The Bacchae by Euripides for the National Theatre of Scotland. This was the show in which Alan Cumming played Dionysus, the god of good times, upturning the prim and proper world of Pentheus, played by a buttoned-up Tony Curran.

With this in mind, it's fascinating to return to Outlying Islands, superbly staged by Ken Alexander as the last show of the Pitlochry season, and see that it is about exactly the same struggle between order and chaos, the head and the heart.

The play is set on the outermost of outlying islands off the Scottish west coast where the pre-war Ministry of Defence is considering testing the new anthrax virus. Unaware of this plan, two young Cambridge graduates, Robert and John, have been stationed on the deserted outcrop by the ministry to study the birdlife for a month. Their hosts are a curmudgeonly old sheep farmer and his attractive niece. Apart from them, they have the island to themselves.

In terms Euripides would have understood, Greig uses this extreme no-man's land to test our twin impulses towards Dionysian freedom and Apollonian restraint. An outlying island is a symbol for our desire to escape; the characters are drawn there by its wildness, its distance from civilisation, its air of danger. Even the abandoned chapel is a place of pagan, not Christian, worship.

Grant O'Rourke's Robert is most forcibly attracted by the island's destructive beauty, a reaction to the repression of his public school upbringing. Joel Sams' virginal John finds it harder to shake off the values imposed by his social class, so must wrestle valiantly with himself the more he is smitten by the sexuality of Claire Dargo's sonorous and beautiful Ellen.

The tension, in other words, comes from more than just the comedy of manners as stuck-up toffs meet earthy locals; it comes from the clash of interests between "gamblers and savers", the reckless and the rational, that is forever at play in our psychological make-up. When John and Ellen finally get together, breaking free of social protocol, embracing the Dionysian, it is the cue for Robert to push himself even further into the wild unknown.

Along with Martyn James, giving a brilliantly dour performance as old farmer Kirk, the cast make a flawless ensemble, catching the humour, intelligence and narrative drive of Greig's play with warmth and understanding.




© Mark Fisher, 2008

1 comment:

Clay Perry said...

sounds delightful