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David Grieg’s play ‘Dunsinane’ was first performed in 2010 by the National Theatre. It follows the events at the end of Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’, with Malcolm assuming the throne after defeating Macbeth, and the English leader Siward attempting to secure peace. Lady Macbeth, known here as Gruach, is alive is enforcing the Moray claim to the throne via herself and her son by her first marriage, causing the central conflict of the play. Written at the time to mirror England’s occupying forces in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, this sequel had some powerful roots.
As Greig’s play juggles the complex 11th-century, Anglo-Scottish relations, LUTG’s production balances Grieg’s writing style. The play continuously moves from the serious to the comedic, in an almost disjointed way on paper. However, the production’s seamless ability to move between the two styles made it stand out. From the energetic Ceilidh dance turning quickly into a declaration of war, or the amusing attempts at flirtation by the chorus of soldiers suddenly becoming a murder, this movement of comedy into tragedy made the plot twists all the more shocking. These moments kept the momentum of the play, maintaining its energy high even when events left soldiers and leaders in trauma and despair. A considerable part of this was down to the actor’s professionalism, staying in character even in chorus roles to the point where one of the chorus members was able to cry on cue. Lord Egham (John Joe Welsh), another English commander, equally offered a comic counterpart to the serious and brooding Siward, getting a laugh from the audience the moment he opened his mouth. It’s these elements that make LUTG’s productions worth watching; it takes them from amateur dramatics to theatre group level.
With the play’s Scotish setting, it was interesting to see the cast’s approach to the accent. Part of me expected them not to bother but having heard that the play’s director (Gail Breslin) was Scottish, the other part of me was looking forward to hearing their attempt. But an ‘attempt’ is an understatement. With a few minor slips now and again, the accents were of an exceptionally high standard.
Gruach (Rose Briggs) and MacDuff (Chris Fuchs) were interesting characters, having been taken by Greig and developed from Shakespeare’s original play. MacDuff became the mouthpiece for the intricate relationships between Scottish clans rather than the Shakespearian vengeful soldier. And Gruach, drawing on Shakespeare’s characterisation of a manipulative power behind the facade of a wife, comes into her own in the play taking actions into her hands. The play does not explain as to how she survives her madness and suggested suicide at the end of Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’, but Briggs used all Grieg’s script had given her to showcase the best of this character.
One of the most intriguing aspects of Greig’s play and LUTG’s interpretation of the role was Siward’s character. Having played a relatively minor role in Shakespeare’s play, Siward (Josh Hawley) develops into Dunsinane’s main protagonist, but this sudden character development comes at a cost. When introduced, Siward is interesting, the clueless Englishman desperately trying to make sense of this foreign country with the best of intentions, allowing others to manipulate him but maintaining his power in his subtle acts. As he says himself in Act 2, ‘subtlety is dangerously close to corruption’. Without explanation, in the space of a 15-minute interval, Siward dramatically changes from the desperate peacemaker to the violent warmonger. While Hawley presented this change well, it’s interesting to wonder if this is the only result of English attempts to understand other lands. Are we just driven mad with no explanation other than our ignorance, or is this just poor character development on Grieg’s part?
It is difficult to fault LUTG’s production of ‘Dunsinane’, and the only criticisms lie in the play itself. Grieg’s play may not be the finest work of contemporary drama, but LUTG showcased it’s more redeemable parts to the best of their ability.