Dunsinane King’s Theatre

The King’s Theatre is looking good following its recent refurbishment and it’s worth a visit just to see the spectacular new painted ceiling by John Byrne. This joint production by the National Theatre of Scotland and the Royal Shakespeare of David Greig’s 2010 play, Dunsinane, is also well worth a visit. It is billed as a sequel to Macbeth, imagining what might have taken place in the aftermath of Macbeth’s death and the English occupation of Scotland under Siward, Earl of Northumberland, and Malcolm Canmore. Whilst set in 11th century Scotland, there are very recognisable parallels with the current situation in the Middle East and Afghanistan where initially well intentioned motives of peacekeeping and restoring order actually have the opposite effect.

Gruach, Lady Macbeth, has not died but has been taken prisoner in the Castle of Dunsinane where she still manages to control her loyal troops and wreak havoc on the occupying forces. As is ever thus in civil war and conflict, there are no easy answers – the removal of Siward and his English troops will not necessarily bring peace, the opposing factions within Scotland will continue to wage war on each other. Egham, one of the English officers bemoans the freezing cold Scottish climate, telling us that the Scots “have some kind of heat inside them, their grudge keeps them warm.” The young English troops are portrayed sympathetically – like the squaddies of Black Watch, another NTS classic, they are just boys doing their job far away from home.

The play is directed by Roxana Silbert and the cast are all excellent, particularly Siobhan Redmond as Gruach and Jonny Phillips as Siward. Redmond gives a mesmerising performance and looks every inch a queen with her long flowing red locks and green velvet gown. Although she is a captive, she gets what she wants – manipulating Egham through his greed into allowing her son to escape and drawing Siward under her spell. She and Siward are on opposing sides but are similar in their unshakeable certainty that they are right and their refusal to compromise. The final scene where Gruach and Siward meet in the frozen Highlands and falling snow is very effective. There are no winners here.

The production is faultless, a simple set of stone steps with a Celtic cross atop serves as the castle, and the musicians to the side of the stage and two Gaelic singers provide a haunting background throughout. There is also a lot of humour, comic interludes just as there are in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, to provide a relief from the unfolding tragedy. Greig isn’t Shakespeare but he is a fine playwright,t and with Dunsinane he has produced another quality piece of work to add to the National Theatre repertoire.

Irene Brownlee