Although David Greig’s Dunsinane is presented as the ‘sequel to Macbeth‘, it is a powerful production with a modern tone and relevance; and with tragedy which deals less with the individual and more with that of human nature itself.
Set after the demise of the ‘tyrant’, Dunsinane focuses on the increasingly strained efforts of Siward (Jonny Phillips) and his English troops to restore order to the chaotic wilds of 11th century Scotland, by installing Malcolm (Brian Ferguson) as King. Yet Macbeth’s queen Gruach (Siobhan Redmond) has not in fact shared the fate of her late husband. Instead, she remains a powerful and Boudica-like figure around which the seeds of rebellion and discontent are showing signs of taking root.
A co-production between the National Theatre of Scotland and the Royal Shakespeare Company, Dunsinane is – as you would expect – a bit of a blockbuster. The acting throughout is top-of-the-range stuff: from Phillips compelling portrayal of Siward as a man whose moral fibre is tested to its limits; to Ferguson’s brilliantly foppish, scheming and self-aware Malcolm. Redmond’s Gruach is a mesmerising and memorable creation: she exudes seductive power behind restrained strength in a regal performance which dominates the stage whenever she appears.
Directed by Roxanna Silbert, there is no magic in Greig’s version of events. The closest we get to wyrd sisters are Gruach’s alluring handmaidens, whose Celtic song weaves its own kind of spell around the men they bewitch using nothing more than their feminine power. And the tragedy which unfolds here is not Shakespearean in style. Instead, it is much closer to home: the futility of conflict and the real tragedy that brief periods of peace are the exception to the norm of war – not the other way around.
Design by Robert Innes Hopkins is effectively stark and bleak: a suitable backdrop which allows the script and performances to take centre stage. Self-mocking humour is also peppered through the work (perhaps a little too liberally), particularly in Ferguson’s snakish delivery; or in the portrayal of Siward’s men as English lads abroad in a bewildering and hostile land.
In fact, the ‘sequel’ tag is largely misleading. Rather than being a ‘Macbeth Part II’, Dunsinane is very much its own beast: a historically-based drama which sweeps powerfully across the barren wastes of a wartorn kingdom, revealing the very human emotion standing naked and raw at its heart.
Dunsinane runs at the Lyceum Theatre until 4 June. Ticket information is available on the Lyceum website.