Too cold for comfort

Dunsinane

Birmingham Rep

***

DUNSINANE is David Grieg’s richly imagined sequel to Macbeth. It’s not a parody or pastiche of the bards work but a modern play with very modern language.

So Macbeth is dead and his queen now called Gruach resides alone in the castle Dunsinane. The English army battles its way to the castle under the leadership of Siward. Expecting an easy task of unifying Scotland he finds Gruach still holds the allegiance of the clans and she refuses to submit to or help the English rule.

The Scottish King Malcolm awaits his fate balancing his devious politics between the queen and the efforts of Siward to bring peace to the country.

Siobhan Redmond as Gruach and by Jonny Phillips as Siward. Picture: Simon Murphy

It’s not essential to know the details of the original Scottish play as Grieg’s focuses his plot on the issues that face any military force once the battle has been won.

Written during the fall of Saddam Hussein the play has become recognised by most as a portrayal that mirrors that era alongside being the closest thing to  an official sequel.  Either way it’s an interesting concept.

However with the full scope to imagine practically any fate of his characters Grieg’s stays fairly close and to the original and is somewhat cautious in their fate. There are no real twists to the plot or outcomes that cannot be predicted and it lacks any devious or extreme characterisations. There are beginnings of such things but Grieg’s keeps everything safely in check.

The end result is comfortable but dark political drama rather than a continuum of a chilling tragedy. Siward is played by Jonny Phillips in true RSC style, a battle weary commander struggling to control the war of words more use to ruling by force.

Siobhan Redmond plays Gruach the mysterious queen scheming with her feminine guile and beguiling Siward with her seductive corruption.

There is a lot of welcome humour in the chilly castle with the English soldiers bored and missing home and their women. Tasked with making an inventory of the castles contents they exchange bawdy quips about the local women and their prowess.

Notable in these is Tom Gill as the boy soldier who solo narrates the progress of time moving the seasons on as the English occupation continues.

One may wonder if the association to the original Macbeth was not known whether this play would have received the attention or acclaim that it has. Whilst it is a fine piece of theatre writing and is skilfully directed by Roxana Silbert, it fails to excite you and lacks any immediate shock or awe.

It’s beautifully staged by designer Robert Innes Hopkins and lit by Chahine Yavroyan, even featuring spectacular final snow scene.

However in the end as Siward is reduced to accepting a fate that is contrary to his wishes and is seen finally trudging off into the blizzard it was me who was left feeling a little cold.  To 28-09-13

Jeff Grant 

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