FringeReview Scotland 2014
David Greig’s 2002 treatment of secrecy and freedom on a remote Scottish island gets taken out the cupboard for a dusting down and we get the treat of seeing the secretive ministry arrive to take advantage of the islanders by sending in naïve scientists. Filled with dark and black humour our eponymous heroes count birds and leave a trail for complete destruction in their kitty wakes.
The story, which has some basis in fact, follows two ministry personnel sent to a remote Outlying Scottish Island to count birds. There they meet an uncle and niece who share responsibility for the island. Living cheek by jowl means that the relationship between all four characters becomes intense, none more so than when the uncle, Kirk, dies as a consequence of being manhandled by one of the scientists. His niece Ellen, without his all seeing disapproval finds a new freedom which manifests itself in her and John consummating their relationship in front of Robert. The ending sees the loss of Robert, an end to John’s time on the island and Ellen’s new found spiritual awakening at its beginning. As for the island on which it has all taken place, the plans to try out chemical warfare upon it are ready. We are left with the impression that all is lost.
Greig’s play has a very serious heart. It has much to say about the deceit involved in the duplicity of John and Robert being sent, unknowingly to prepare the head count for the chemical experiment, about the nature of the relationship between the awakening of the young and the disapproval of the old and how both naïve scientists are shown to be even more naïve than the islanders.
Within that story there is much to admire in how Greig has handled the story. It has humour and warmth as a counter balance to the dark serious nature of what is being proposed – the wholesale destruction of an island’s wildlife to advance humanity’s effective preparation for going to war with itself.
Within that narrative though taking direction towards the comedic element does tend to overshadow the effectiveness of a story that is truly awful in its telling. I also have issue with the nudity. It’s not that I am prudish but the point of any form of nudity has to be, for me, clear. The lack of warning or lead up to it does not help as it seems to explode from nowhere and Ellen’s flowering as a woman before her de flowering makes sense in retrospect for me rather than as part of the narrative. However Richard Baron has once again shown that he is a fine director but playing the first act for laughs has long held consequences as the seriousness of the second act becomes dragged down by some of the comedic elements within the first. I do, though, blame the structure rather than the director.
Performances were all good and again Firebrand prove that they are very adept at modern Scottish classic texts. It is clear to see that they have found a wonderfully rich niche market and can be relied upon to provide highly worthy revivals. The cast were more than equal to the task. In particular the skill brought to the stage by Crawford Logan was outstanding. Though he may have left at the end of act one as Kirk, he makes a welcome return as the all sprightly English Officer and Gentleman at the end having returned to rescue his two charges and return them to “civilisation”.
With a highly functional set, lit and supported by great theatre arts this was a technical performance with much within it to be admired.
I am left with an issue about the script and its interpretation. Overall this production did, however, demonstrate again how vibrant and vital Firebrand are to Scottish Theatre. This is the third production I have seen by them and it was as important as the previous two. That the company are not only outside of the Central Belt but deep in the Scottish Borders gives the company a unique perspective. From that viewpoint I look forward to yet another dusting down of a classic as they will embark on Lucy Prebble’s dissection of ENRON in The Effect which goes on tour February to March next year. On this evidence I shall be getting tickets.