DUNSINANE on tour at Oxford, Bath and Birmingham Rep

Dunsinane 3The National Theatre of Scotland and the Royal Shakespeare Company put on a performance of Dunsinane this evening that was easily one of the most enjoyable plays I’ve seen in a while. A vigorous epic tale with big sweeping battles, subterfuge and deceit, and lots of witty asides about Scotland, this is the kind of play I could recommend to anyone.

Dunsinane is a sequel to Macbeth, in which Lady Macbeth is not dead, but rather alive and well under another name, Gruach. The premise is somewhat implausible, and yet I feel sure that Shakespeare would have happily employed the same method, had he had the idea for a sequel before David Grieg got to it. The play follows the English army, under the command of Siward, played by Jonny Phillips, in their attempts to set Scotland free and to bring peace. Widely praised for its modern day relevance, the irony is not lost on the audience waiting for a nod from America to plunge the world into war in Syria, ostensibly to provide a similar “peace” to that nation. The tone of the play is highly patriotic, and on the way home, my friend and I (half-)joked that perhaps Scottish independence campaigners could have Dunsinane performed across Scotland in the run-up to next year’s referendum to drum up patriotic fervour.

The production value of this performance is astounding. Composer and sound director Nick Powell employs music to stunning effect, particularly in the vocals from Helen Darbyshire and Mairi Morrison, who move around the stage as if casting a spell. A very simple set and few props allow the talent of the actors to shine through.

Siward, arguably the main character of the play, is a very complex protagonist. Essentially a good man, he reacts badly to betrayal, and as the play progresses, we see him descend into a kind of anger-induced madness. Phillips conveys this breakdown with great sensitivity, and in my opinion, his character is the strongest in an already very strong cast. Siobhan Redmond as Gruach, the Lady Macbeth character, is suitably crazed, although her odd accent (halfway between Welsh and French) mars the effect somewhat. I love all the young men (too many to name individually) who portray soldiers and boys of both countries. Their loutish demeanour (one is reminded vividly of sports hooligans) is belied by the tenderness of Tom Gill’s Boy Soldier character. His speeches are letters to his mother from the war, and poignantly convey the difficulties of serving as a soldier in a strange land so far from home.

Dunsinane is a wonderful play. It’s an absolute must-see, whether you are familiar with Macbeth or not.    @bookingaround