King’s Head Theatre – Outlying Islands

Would you spend a month on a deserted island?

More common question is “Who would you take with you on a deserted island?”. I guess most of us, 21st century humans, would go nuts on a deserted island in a week or so, so the most recommended companion would be a fully qualified psychiatrist, preferably from the 19th century. David Greig’s play observes this deserted island scenario and the effect it has on human behaviour. The intimacy of King’s Head 110-seat theatre absorbs you into the atmosphere of the Outlying Islands.



King’s Head Theatre was founded in 1970, which makes it the first pub theatre since Shakespeare’s day, or so they claim. Though the theatre is small and has just recently granted a new permanent home in Islington Square, it prides itself in producing some of the best work in theatre awarded with Olivier Awards and a number of them transferred to the West End and the Broadway.



Story evolves on an outlying island in the North Atlantic (somewhere not too far from Scotland and Ireland) in the summer months before the Second World War. Two young naturalists, John and Robert, arrive on a boat to the island together with the island tacksman Kirk and his young niece, Ellen. John and Robert were sent to this island by the Ministry to study forktails and document the wildlife. The island was occupied by pagans driven from the mainland for hundreds of years, but then famine made them return to the fatherland, and since the island has been uninhibited. Kirk has been using the island as grazing land for his sheep and visits the island only during the summer months. John and Robert settle down in the pagan chapel, which is supposed to be their accommodation for a month, until this expedition is over. Kirk and Ellen stay in a bothy not to disturb the naturalists’ work. In the evening, Ellen cooks dinner and takes it over to the chapel, as the only table on the island is in the chapel and they agreed to have dinner together because of it. Ellen clears the table after the dinner. Kirk stays with Robert and John to discuss what is to become of the island and to estimate his compensation. Kirk reveals that he had received a letter from the Ministry that discussed the issue of compensation. He does not tell much detail about the letter, but Robert, who is the head of the expedition, soon realises that the Ministry has different intention for the island than to leave its wildlife documented and intact. While Kirk goes out for number one, Robert tells John they should make Kirk change his mind about allowing the government to use his island for testing a bacteria potentially for war, but he realises the tacksman favours the government’s plan much more than using the island for grazing. When Kirk returns Robert challenges him, first verbally and then physically by holding him and covering his mouth for him not to call Ellen. John is quite useless; Robert would not listen to his suggestions to let Kirk go and Kirk starts to faint. The old man dies in the chapel from a heart failure. The boat is supposed to arrive in a month, so Robert and John burry Kirk after Ellen spent three days washing and shaving the corpse. Ellen spent those days awake, next to the body of her uncle, and she became dreamy, cannot tell the reality from illusion. She sees John swimming naked in the see and pleasuring himself. Ellen starts to feel certain excitement, the same she felt at the cinema watching Stan Laurel. Realising that she has full control on her life from now on, Ellen declares herself the owner of the island. She knows Robert has been watching her bathe and she enjoys it. She talks about it to John, admitting she wants them both. John, having developed sweet feelings towards her, does not want to resist the temptation and as the two are in sweet caress Robert enters the chapel. John steps back, trying to explain the situation to Robert, but Ellen wants Robert to stay and watch. Robert and Ellen seem to be in agreement; for Robert it’s natural to allow “to be taken”. John is tempted into the “union”, but then he holds back, reminding them that the ship is coming soon and they will go back. Robert rushes out of the chapel weeping. The ship arrives to the island to take the islanders back and we find out that Robert died that night, he jumped off the cliff, the way he used to when he went swimming, but that day he did not come back.



Outlying Islands was first produced by the Traverse Theatre Company at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, in July 2002. King’s Head revival was produced by Atticist in association with the King’s Head.

Director:        Jessica Lazar

Producer:      Bridie Bischoff, David Doyle, Tom Ford



Bought my tickets from TodayTix. £15 for a side seat in the stalls. The theatre has 110 seat only, so it’s all stalls, and there are no bad seats unless it’s int he corner. The theatre does not use printed tickets so I got the programme in the picture. This could be deemed more environmentally friendly, considering that the programme was already printed and I bought it, whereas ticket had to be printed for me to get it. A bit of a though process here, but I think programme looks far better in the picture.


Running time is 2 hours 15 minutes.


The Theatre Rat

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