David Greig’s 2002 four-hander is an odd play. Sliding gradually from fish-out-of-water comedy to mind-bending magic realism, Outlying Islands tells the story of two ornithologists, sent to a remote Hebridean island for a secretive wildlife survey, accompanied only by a wily Scottish sheep-farmer and his repressed niece.
Greig’s central idea is the same one that motivates The Tempest – that things work differently far out to sea. With no one and nothing to watch over them, Greig’s four islanders start to change. Social habits fall away. Time begins to slip. Primal urges overtake learned ones. Civilisation collapses, and long-buried paganism prevails.
But in Jessica Lazar’s production for Atticist, it takes an awful long time to do so. Greig’s play, with its long, dreamy scenes and liberal use of metaphors, is allowed to drift. The story’s decline from structure to chaos lacks definition and impact.
Anna Lewis’ humble bothy set, and Christopher Preece’s sound design of roaring winds and screeching gulls do well to evoke an atmospheric Atlantic wildness in the confined space, but the play demands more than this production can give.
A set of uneven performances don’t help. Rose Warlaw is the exception – she magnificently manages Ellen’s transition from shy Scottish girl to unapologetic anarchist with a devouring sexual appetite. It’s not enough, though.
Atticist presented a superb revival of Steven Berkoff’s East at the King’s Head last year – rich, rollicking and raucous. But Greig’s peculiar play feels poorly served.