Theatre review: Dunsinane

Posted on: 24 February 2010 by Mark O'haire

Laurence Green reviews David Greig’s imaginative Macbeth sequel - Dunsinane - at the Hampstead Theatre.

Have you ever wondered what happened at the end of one of Shakespeare’s greatest historical plays, namely Macbeth? Well, according to David Greig’s imaginative sequel Dunsinane (Hampstead Theatre), Lady Macbeth is not actually dead but has assumed the name of Grauch and has a son by her first husband, who was murdered by Macbeth!

Late at night in a foreign land, an English army sweeps through the landscape under over of darkness and, having killed the tyrant, takes the seat of power.

Attempting to restore peace and put in place a new ruler, the commanding officer is beset by a brutal guerrilla uprising and simmering discontent amongst his own inexperienced troops. Struggling to contain his men and the ambitions of his superiors, not to mention the politics of this harsh country, he finds himself drawn towards the tyrant’s powerful widow in search of someone to share his burden of responsibilities. Increasingly isolate from his own men and Scottish allies alike, his efforts to restore order appear futile as the situation spins out of control.

Greig’s vision of one man’s attempts to restore peace in a country - in this instance Scotland in the eleventh century at the height of the fight for succession of the Scottish thrown - ravaged by war has uncomfortable parallels with the ongoing Afghanistan campaign with English troops locked in an unsinkable war on inhospitable terrain, pitched against warring factions and long-standing clan loyalities.

Director Roxana Silbert skilfully handles the shifts in focus between the politicking generals and the hard-pressed ground troops who joke, grumble and wish they were back home with their mothers. Yet the play appears rather uneven, switching from broad comedy to sheer poetry such as ’these hills rise up in great grey slabs at crazy angles so steep the green just slides off of them - or else they stand like black ships on a sea of watery moor’ to brutal battle scenes.

Silbert coaxes strong performances from the RSC ensemble, in particular Jonny Phillips as Siward, the English commanding officer, Siobhan Redmond as the tyrant’s widow Grauch, Brian Ferguson as Malcolm, the man the English want to install as King of Scotland, and Ewan Stewart as Macduff.

This then is a flawed by fascinating view of history as we never knew it!

By Laurence Green

Where: Hampstead Theatre

When: plays until 6 March

Box Office: 020 7722 9301

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