Despite the chaste ornithological basis of Outlying Islands this is definitely not a play to see with your parents. Things get raunchy in this coming of age tale, set on a derelict Hebridean island in 1939.
The premise is this: two young Cambridge ornithologists, Robert and John, are supposedly conducting a wildlife survey on behalf of the government, though they’re really there to assess the islands’ suitability for Anthrax testing. They are staying with volatile Scot, Kirk, and his daughter Ellen who suffers from severe eczema on her hands. A change of events frees Ellen from the overprotective Kirk, and she incites an explosive ménage à trois.
David Grieg’s script is about the incompatibility between society’s expectations for us to be civil and respectful, and the innate, carnal desires within. The use of sound and lighting in this production fantastically creates a sense of escalating tension. Occasional interruptions of jets zipping by, bursts of thunder and dark shadows creeping across the stage propel us towards the strangely bleak sexual awakening of the young characters while setting the play within the macrocosm of WW2.
Understandably, a play set during such a dark historical period benefited from moments of lightness, like John’s proclamation that “nobody defecates in Edinburgh, random or otherwise” which elicited a chuckle or two. A highlight was Crawford Logan as whisky-swigging, red-faced Kirk who completely owned the stage.
In today’s society, where slut-shaming is at its apex and degrading images of the submissive female are widely accepted, Ellen’s unapologetic ownership of her sexuality, brazen desire for Robert and John and bemusement at John’s is refreshing and appreciated.
With Outlying Islands thought provoking ideas, feminist stance and absorbing plot, it has all the ingredients to be a theatrical success but unfortunately fails to emotionally engage its audience.