Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
August, 2002

**** Intelligent, slightly odd, quality drama - pure Traverse

David Greig is the most thoughtful major playwright currently working in Scotland, and this show has all his hallmarks.

It's 1939; the world is on the edge of war, and two Cambridge ornithologists are at the edge of the world, sent to a remote Atlantic island by "the Ministry" to survey the birds there. They set up camp in a "pagan chapel" and try to rub along with the dour old leaseholder and his young niece, the only other (temporary) inhabitants of the island. Complications arise: they find themselves competing for the girl's attentions, and also discover that the island, a haven for rare seabirds, is intended for use as an anthrax testing ground.

Greig puts care and detail into his portrayals of a hothouse world in which characters observe and are observed, where social propriety, anthropological dispassion and youthful exuberance all get mixed up. Laurence Mitchell gives a fine performance as Robert, so analytical that he can even catalogue the signs of his own fear and anger as he experiences them. Indeed, it is here that the only false note is sounded: as Robert's emotional autism gives way to a shapely, even high-romantic ending, Greig either does not plot the transition carefully enough or else just abandons the earlier trait. Otherwise, though, a remarkable piece of work.

Written for divento.com

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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