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Theatre review: Dunsinane 
15th-Feb-2010 11:15 pm
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Disclaimer time: This is a review of a preview performance. Dunsinane opens to critics officially this Wednesday, and in theory elements of the production could change before then.

The Royal Shakespeare Company do commision new plays, but they tend to like a vague Shakesperean connection in them. Sometimes the link can be pretty tenuous, others show their inspiration more clearly. David Greig's Dunsinane is among the latter, following straight on from the events of Macbeth. Macbeth himself is never referred to by name, only as The Tyrant, but Malcolm and Macduff are present and correct, as is the English general Siward (Jonny Philips) who takes centre stage in this sort-of-sequel. Having installed a new ruler, Siward finds that peace doesn't assert itself just like that, and there are still rival factions battling, so he and his army have to stay for an eventful year. At the centre of the power struggle is Siobhan Redmond's Gruach, aka Lady Macbeth. It seems reports of her death were convenient spin, something that turns out to be Malcolm's strong suit.

For the RSC's two-play residency at Hampstead, I was allocated a front row seat in what were described as Stage Seats. Actually Robert Innes Hopkins' design isn't along Equus lines but rather part of a recent trend I'm all in favour of, where traditional proscenium arch stages are reconfigured. Following the Old Vic's year in the round, the Royal Court Downstairs' transformation into a catwalk (and upcoming one into a boxing ring) and the Almeida going traverse, Hampstead Theatre has been transformed into a wedge-like thrust stage. I can't vouch for what it's done to the sightlines at the back of the stalls but I suspect they're still OK, and certainly from up close the redesign gives the black stone set powerful dramatic effect.

The play is a bit overlong but for the most part Roxana Silbert's production keeps the momentum up. While this might be a million miles away from Greig's recent hit, the romantic comedy Midsummer, there are a lot of funny moments to cut the tension, and some very black humour during the climcatic confrontation. Early on there's perhaps a few too many obvious references to what recent events the play is commenting on (Greig doesn't actually use the phrase "regime change" but he might as well) but these ease off after the first act. There's a lot going on and not all of it works but there's some very striking stuff in here as well - the scene that I'll probably most remember has the weak, unsympathetic but brutally honest new king Malcolm (Brian Ferguson) addressing the Thanes and telling them exactly how much he's going to screw them over, and just why they're all going to accept it.

Dunsinane by David Greig is booking until the 6th of March at Hampstead Theatre.
Comments 
16th-Feb-2010 01:50 pm (UTC)
Anonymous
Technically speaking it follows on from Macbeth in the historical sense, not the Shakespearean sense though.
Still I found it much funnier than I was expecting, and I loved the stage and the music, all very atmospheric.
16th-Feb-2010 02:18 pm (UTC)
Technically speaking it follows on from Macbeth in the historical sense, not the Shakespearean sense though.

Perhaps, but then again I wouldn't trust Shakespeare for historical accuracy anyway, especially not in a play as famously skewed towards currying favour with James I as Macbeth is.

Still I found it much funnier than I was expecting

With hindsight it didn't quite match in tone with the humour that came after it, but the opening with the soldiers disguising themselves as Birnam Wood and having to get into character was a great way to start, and very familiar to anyone who's ever taken a drama class.
16th-Feb-2010 03:18 pm (UTC)
Anonymous
Oh, I'd NEVER use him for historical accuracy, hehe. The only reason I noticed was that they referred to the tyrant ruling for 15 years, and I was pretty sure the final scenes of Macbeth don't cover that much time ;-)
16th-Feb-2010 03:30 pm (UTC)
Certainly the play tends to suggest that Macbeth didn't rule very long, but I'm sure I've seen productions where it was implied that a lot of time passed between Macbeth being crowned and Malcolm's return. I want to say the Rupert Goold/Patrick Stewart version but that seems wrong to me, since that production had such a strong theme of an older Macbeth with his last chance at any power; so maybe I'm thinking of something else.

Incidentally going from your comments I'm assuming this is Ian? In which case speaking of Macbeth I take it you know about Elliot "looks NOTHING LIKE any dead movie stars" Cowan at the Globe this summer?
17th-Feb-2010 02:03 pm (UTC)
Anonymous
Oh yes, I'd forgotten I was anonymous!

How interesting, I've never seen a production that suggested a long reign before. Also, Lady M not being dead threw me, so I just assumed we were in some alternative Macbeth-land.

When I got the email from the Globe, I think I made a noise along the lines of SQQUEEEE and reflexively booked tickets for the first date I could make! So I'm going on Saturday 24th April, although it will be hard to see him and not be as close as we were at Wilton's... ;-)
(Deleted comment)
16th-Feb-2010 03:31 pm (UTC)
It has its moments!
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