Outlying Islands by David Greig – King’s Head Theatre, Islington. 3 *** William Russell



by David Greig.


The King’s Head Theatre, 115 Upper Street, Islington, London N1 1QN to 2 February 2019.

Tues- Sat 7pm. Mat Sun 3.30pm.

Runs 2hr 40 mins One interval.

TICKETS: 0207 226 8561.




Review: William Russell 15 January.


Island fling – or Scotch mist


Fine performances, skilful direction save the evening because David Greig’s play, last seen in London in 2002, set on an isolated Scottish island off the West coast which the Government are considering using as an anthrax test site is a most bizarre load of sexual and political twaddle. It is 1939, war has broken out and two ornithologists,  John (Jack McMillan) and Robert (Tim Machell) have been sent by the Ministry to check out the bird population and the condition of the island.

They are an ill matched pair of twitchers, university friends, John being a virgin full of self doubt as only Scots of his class can be, and Tom an English eccentric to the point of being almost crazy.  McMillan conjures up a nice Edinburgh boy out of his depth and in thrall to his chum beautifully, while Machell makes Robert a gorgeously eccentric no holds barred figure, a hero to worship albeit flawed.

They obsess about the birds, notably fork tailed petrels, have turned up with a patently absurd collection of stores and an apparently unlimited supply of whisky to spend a month with no contact with the mainland, and spend their time taking photographs of the birds – and falling out. The only resident inhabitants are Kirk, an elderly islander intent on making as much as he can out of the government and these two innocents – Ken Drury makes a magnificent curmudgeon – and his spinster niece Ellen (Rose Wardlaw).

She is deeply repressed, even more so it would seem that John, but the sight of two healthy young men, especially John bathing off the rocks in the nude, stirs feelings. Ms Wardlaw, all smothered lust and native teuchter cunning, is a delight, although at first she slightly overdoes the timidity. A little more volume would get her lines across rather better. But, to be fair, as Ellen changes from victim to sexual predator she increases the decibels. She is also obsessed with the films of Laurel and Hardy, which, it seems, she did get to see when visiting the mainland. John reminds her of Stan.

It all gets very complicated, the old man dies after being assaulted by the two young men, and when Ellen finally gets John to do what she wants they are interrupted by Robert and one things leads to another – or not, as the case may be. But of what life was like on such remote islands we get not a hint and the plot really does take the breath away it is so implausible.

It is based on a real story. Two naturalists did visit the island of Guinard  in 1935 to seek out fork tailed petrels, and in1942 it was used as a test site for anthrax and not re-opened until 1992.


John: Jack McMillan.

Kirk/ the Captain: Ken Drury.

Ellen: Rose Wardlaw.

Robert: Tom Machell.


Director: Jessica Lazar.

Set & Costume Designer: Anna Lewis.

Lighting Designer: David Doyle.

Sound Designer: Christopher Preece.

Movement Director: Jennifer Fletcher.

Production Photographs: Clive Barda.


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