OUTLYING ISLANDS (Scotland) by David Greig, directed by Philip Howard, with Laurence Mitchell, Sam Heughan, Robert Carr and Lesley Hart. Presented by Traverse Theatre at the du Maurier Theatre Centre (231 Queen's Quay West). April 9-12 at 8 pm, matinees April 12-13 at 2 pm. $40-$60.
Scottish playwright David Greig jokes that he's trying to create a new epic hero -- the birdwatcher.His play Outlying Islands, presented by Edinburgh's hotbed of new work, the Traverse Theatre, deals with Robert and John, young ornithologists who in early 1939 journey to an isolated Scottish island to study cliff birds. Their hosts are the island's leaseholder, the crusty, mercenary Kirk, and his niece Ellen, who attracts the attention of both scientists.
"Its inspiration was something personal that I needed to explore," explains Greig from Edinburgh, "what draws me and others to outlying islands, literally as well as metaphorically. And then I found the story of these two men who spent the late 30s looking for a certain breed of petrel. They weren't much aware that others had lived on these islands for centuries, and also seemed innocent of the fact that their country was about to go to war.
"I've created a piece about the borderlands -- between innocence and war, between the upper-class British culture of the visitors and the remote, Gaelic culture they encounter."
Coincidentally, 2003 has been Greig's year for Toronto shows. He co-wrote the collective Lament, presented at Six Stages in February, and next month Theatre Direct Canada tours his children's play Petra.
"The isolated island that contains the action is a world in miniature," he continues. "The two scientists, so different -- Robert's a cynical visionary and leader, John's shy and romantic -- find themselves in a Darwinian fight for territorial control.
"Initially, I thought the fight was between the men, but Ellen turned out to be at the centre of everything, not as something to be possessed but as a successful fighter herself. She's restricted by the fundamentalist Christian religion in which she grew up, but she's also the channel through which the pagan culture can continue."
Despite the grimness of the material, Greig promises that it's shot through with humour.
"I like putting my characters in extreme, dangerous moral and sexual positions and finding the dark comedy," he says, and I can feel him smiling on the other end of the line. "I guess it's just my wicked side."firstname.lastname@example.org