I saw Dunsinane at the Edinburgh Lyceum last night – it’s David Greig’s sequel to Macbeth, and an amazingly good one.  The play explores what happens after a ‘tyrant’ is dead, and an occupying army tries to establish ‘peace’ in a country whose inner dynamics they don’t understand and can’t manipulate.  The contemporary reference is clear -but not laboured.

Without aping Shakespeare, Craig manages to evoke the same kind of experience:  there is the acute ear for language, the balancing of  comedy and tragedy at both top and bottom levels of the cast (a squaddie tries to fortune-tell his chances with the hen-girl he fancies by firing arrows into the appropriate parts of a woman on a tapestry;  it seems sweet and romantic; and then he is patriotically knifed by her);  and there is is real depth and grandeur to the themes that are raised.

Greig makes a sharp contrast between the English commander, Siward, who acts from simple principle(unite the country and establish peace), and the prospective Scots king Malcolm, who is slippery and cruel, but knows exactly how to manage the limited power he holds.  It comes across in the language, with Siward wanting plain speaking, and Malcolm sliding around in nuance and apparent double-talk, others around him talking and singing in Gaelic which the English don’t understand.  The squaddies complain about the mists and the ground which looks firm but which sucks you in up to the waist in bog.  Nothing is what it seems.

Then there is Macbeth’s widow, Gruach.  Siobhan Redmond is stunning, as a sexy, ruthless but crafty queen, but so much more rounded and lifelike than ‘Lady Macbeth’.  Siward is captivated by her, but it’s playing with fire (her hair is long, glowing red and loose like flames).  Both of them get burned in the end.

There are lots of good phrases and one-liners that make you want to get hold of the script so as to ponder them properly.  The two whose gist I remember come from King Malcolm, as her reflects on politics and power in a land riven by clans and shifting allegiance.  He says that while Siward seems to have high principle, clarity of purpose and strength, he actually is not only becoming evil through his increasing violence in supporting the king, but in fact making Malcolm’s position more difficult.  If the clan chiefs don’t see King Malcolm as strong and threatening, they won’t attack him and peace might break out. ‘Weak’ may actually be ‘strong’ in this land of mists and shadows.  And secondly, Malcolm points out to Siward that war, not peace, is the normal condition.  Peace is a fleeting calm on the water, before the waves are stirred up again.

Well worth seeing – and it goes to the Citizens’ Theatre in Glasgow next, 7-11 June.

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3 Responses to Dunsinane

  1. Annie T says:

    Couldn’t agree more. We saw it on Friday evening and I noted down the ‘my weakness is my strength line’ too! I thought the ‘chorus’ of the four squaddies and the boy soldier’s running commentary were very clever Shakespearean effects without over-egging the thing. Interesting/worrying listening to what the audience laughed at most – in this post-election time. Thanks for your review; much more searching than those I read in the Press.
    (Loved Birnam Wood!)

  2. kate says:

    I saw it last night and enjoyed it a good deal. I liked the way the second half reversed many of the sympathies of the first – it’s not not just the English on shifting ground but the audience are too – and the powerful sense of the duplicity of language. And yes too to the mixture of comedy and tragedy, and Birnam Wood. I also likde the allusions to Macbeth and the way in which imagery and themes were picked up and re-used. But I’m less sure about Gruoch. The performance was good, agreed, but the writing simply positions her as Other, mysterious, unpredictable and female. I suppose you could argue this is always the way an occupying force sees the culture it has invaded, but I’m not entirely convinced. More rounded than Lady Macbeth? Well, I’m never going to endorse that, am I?

    • alisonpeden says:

      Re: Gruoch, I suppose I was getting at the way that for Shakespeare, Lady Macbeth is the Eve-temptress, whereas in Dunsinane, you can see a more variegated motivation in Gruoch.

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