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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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Thursday, October 02, 2014

Theatre review: Outlying Islands

Published in the Guardian
Seen at Heart of Hawick
Three stars

WHEN civilisation finally catches up with Shakespeare’s Prospero and Miranda in The Tempest, there’s the assumption that they’ll leave their island behind. This magic and wildness is all very well, but it’s no match for society. Heading back to Italy, with all its order and discipline, is taken as read.
There’s a similar conflict between the tame and the wild in David Greig’sOutlying Islands. First seen in 2002 and now revived by director Richard Baron in a quietly absorbing production for the Borders-based Firebrand company, it begins with two young men from the ministry showing up on an Outer Hebridean rock.
This is 1939 and, with war breaking out in Europe, the island could be the wilderness the authorities need to carry out their anthrax tests. That’s news to James Rottger’s buttoned-up John and Martin Richardson’s libertarian Robert. As far as they’re concerned, they’re here to conduct an ornithological survey. To spend a few weeks in such a pristine environment has been their lifetime ambition.
As in The Tempest, it’s assumed they’ll go back home at the end of their stay. But what would happen, speculates Greig, if nature overwhelmed their stiff-upper-lip reserve? What if the island’s Miranda – Helen Mackay’s wide-eyed Ellen – offered an alternative way to live with her seductive mixture of innocence and sexual freedom? What if the opportunity to swim naked, to be unobserved, to be as unburdened by morality as the animals, became too great to resist? Why leave the island at all?
In this way, John and Robert are opposing aspects of our own personalities. We empathise with the self-restraint of one, but envy the lack of inhibition of the other and, once they’ve seen off the paternalistic hand of Crawford Logan as Ellen’s uncle, it’s hard to see why they shouldn’t answer the call of the wild.
© Mark Fisher 2014 
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