JOYCE MCMILLAN on OUTLYING ISLANDS/ DAVID GREIG for Pitlochry Festival Theatre, April 2008
THERE’S A BEAUTIFUL UNINHABITED ISLAND off the west coast of Scotland, about to be blighted by a long-term military experiment in germ warfare. There‘s a setting that resonates with a powerful if restrained sense of history; the date is the summer of 1939, just before the outbreak of the Second World War. There are three strongly-etched characters caught in a web of mounting sexual tension; this writer’s plays are often full of a powerful erotic energy. And – in the foreground – there are two British middle-class men, young naturalists recently graduated from Oxford, struggling with different understandings of their place in the world, and in their time. Their names are Robert and John; and they are subtly divided by the same conflict of ideas – between a fierce worship of nature in all its beauty and brutality, and an innate sense that human society requires a sense of morality, decency, restraint – that was about to tear the whole of Europe apart.
That’s David Greig’s 2002 play Outlying Islands, one of the most successful ever staged by the Traverse Theatre during an Edinburgh Festival; and in all of these ways, it’s intensely typical of the work of a man who, at only 39, has already been established for more than a decade as a leader of the current generation of Scottish playwrights, and one of the most prolific and gifted of them all. Born in Edinburgh 1969, and brought up partly in Nigeria, where his father worked for an oil company, Greig returned to Scotland in 1990 – after university in Bristol – and rapidly matured into a superb dramatic poet of the modern middle classes, both in their historic formation, and in their current dilemmas; and if his plays often feature Scottish settings and characters, their themes tend to be profoundly cosmopolitan and international, preoccupied with the fate of our global village, and our place in it.
He has written for the Traverse Theatre and the Edinburgh International Festival, for the Royal Shakespeare Company, and for both National Theatres, in London and Scotland, creating powerful and popular plays ranging from The Architect (1997) to San Diego (2003), and his recent Traverse success Damascus, playing this summer in New York. He has adapted texts ranging from Greek classics to the work of contemporary Palestinian writer Raja Shehadeh; with his own company Suspect Culture, he has produced a series of cool and beautiful reflections on the lives of a generation raised in an age of individualism, from One Way Street in 1995 to 8000 Metres in 2004. And he has also written a series of brilliant, award-winning plays for children, including the unforgettable Warsaw Ghetto drama Dr. Korczak’s Example, and his recent stunning success Yellow Moon, about two lost teenagers on the run through Scotland.
Today, David Greig’s back-catalogue already runs to almost 40 plays; he has seen them translated into dozens of languages, and performed across the world, from Scandinavia and the Americas to the Middle East and beyond. He lives in North Queensferry with his wife and children. But he travels often, giving workshops and encouraging new writers in some of the world’s darkest places; and bringing home fresh inspiration for a rich, responsible and lyrical writing life that – for all its success so far – has only just begun, and which seems set to make an ever-greater impact on audiences in Scotland, and beyond.
JOYCE McMILLAN is theatre critic of The Scotsman, and also writes a political and social commentary column for the paper. She has been a political and arts columnist, theatre critic and broadcaster for 25 years, living in Edinburgh and working for various Scottish and London-based newspapers. She also broadcasts regularly, mainly on Radio Scotland and Radio 4, and is currently a Visiting Professor in the School of Drama at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh.
ENDS ENDS ENDS