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Dunsinane – The HOUSE, Birmingham REP

Writer: David Greig

Director: Roxana Silbert

Reviewer: James Garrington

[rating:5]

Dunsinane Birmingham Rep Richard CampbellMacbeth is dead. The queen has gone mad and is now, we are told, also dead. Malcolm, and an English army led by Siward, have taken control, and Malcolm is about to be crowned king. The worst, it would appear is over.

What would happen, though, if the queen were, in fact, not dead? If Lady Macbeth were, after all, still alive and had regained her sanity; how would she respond to the invaders? This is the question addressed by David Greig’s play as Malcolm, having won the war, attempts to win the peace. In this piece the queen has survived, she has dropped the name of Macbeth and is now calling herself simply Gruach. She is a noblewoman with loyal followers, and with ties and affiliations that the conquerors will need to win over if they are to stabilise the country and crown Malcolm.

The first thing that strikes the audience is the simplicity of the set, designed by Robert Innes Hopkins; cold, stark and empty, a lone Celtic cross at the top of a flight of steps is the only decoration. The set is atmospherically lit by Chahine Yavroyan leaving a ghostly feeling, where people can appear from the gloom and disappear again without warning. This is a place where things are not always as they seem. Dunsinane is not a piece that relies on effects, or scenery; it is very much in the RSC mould, cut back to ensure that nothing can detract from the quality of the writing and the production; and quality is something that is certainly not lacking here.

Siward (Jonny Phillips) is a good man; he is a man who is trying to do the best job he can, a down-to-earth soldier who is totally out of his depth, and who cannot begin to understand the political subtleties of the country he is occupying. His performance is hypnotic, as he moves from supremely confident conqueror, through frustrated and uncomprehending politician, to the point of despair at the realisation that he cannot and will not beat the people who understand the system far better than he does. His emotional transformation through the evening is spellbinding.

Siobhan Redmond is Gruach, Macbeth’s widow and a wily political operator who does not hesitate to use all the weapons at her disposal in the fight against the invader. At one time strong and steely as she stands up to Siward, and the next moment feminine and seductive, Redmond shows again why she is one of the country’s leading exponents of this type of rôle. In the original Shakespeare, Lady Macbeth is supremely self-centred and manipulative in her fight to gain and hold on to political power. Here Greig and Redmond have between them added an extra dimension, an understanding that force and manipulation alone will not succeed against an occupying force and that a degree of guile and persuasion may also have to be employed.

The pair are well supported by the remainder of the cast, notably Sandy Grierson who gives an effective understated performance as Malcolm. Here is a man who understands the politics but struggles to explain the subtleties to Siward, giving us many funny moments in the process.

With clear reflections of the situation in the Middle East over the past twenty years, Dunsinane brings the story of Macbeth bang up to date. It is an insightful and extremely well-observed study of the effects of occupation on both the occupier and the occupied, effects that are very similar now to the way they were decades, centuries or even millennia ago.

With David Greig’s exceptional script, a superb cast and Roxana Silbert’s sharp direction, this is an unmissable production.

Runs until 28th September 2013

Picture: Richard Campbell

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