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.