REVIEW: Dunsinane by David Greig
National Theatre of Scotland and Royal Shakespeare Company
Eden Court, Inverness
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SO what did happen after the tyrant Macbeth was killed?
That’s the question that inspired playwright David Greig to write DUNSINANE, pitching Gruach, Lady Macbeth against English peacemaker Siward.
By the end, you might know the answer to their five-star struggle: “Which of us is the conqueror here and which the conquered.”
At a time when Scotland is pre-independence referendum and the world is once again thinking about invading a civil war ravaged country (Syria, this time), the real world hovers above Greig’s post-apocalypse 11th century Scotland making it spookily relevant.
And instead of being the story we might have thought – Gruach’s – this play is all about the emotional destruction of grizzled soldier Siward.
Late on Gruach rightly says: “You’re a good man and it’s a shame because if you hadn’t been, there’d have been a lot less blood.”
But Greig offsets the tragedy of Siward with a lot of lighthearted fun from his young English soldiers. They arrive dressed with Birnam’s twigs, but with in-jokes the audience enjoys, they discover life is cold, wet and miserable in Scotland.
“It’s a foreign land,” as one says.
But there are lost boys woven through the story – Siward’s own son killed by Macbeth and Gruach’s heir make for a shared, growing pain – on top of an attraction brought to red-blooded life by Siobhan Redmond and Jonny Phillips.
“I am Siward. I am England. I am here to bring order,” he says, a man on a simple, straight-dealing mission.
But we watch him sink into the mire of bickering clan chiefs and wily politicians like Gruach herself and King Malcolm, a deliciously sleekit performance from Sandy Grierson.
Siobhan Redmond’s charismatic Gruach – with her strange pseudo-Highland lilt – is a career-defining must-see.
But it’s Jonny Phillips’ portrayal of Siward’s breakdown at Dunsinane’s heart.
And the duo’s final scene – in fantastically-realistic snow – is beat-perfect.
But Greig’s Scotland is a big character too: “Everything is water ... nothing is solid. You look at the ground ahead and you are suddenly up to your waist in mud.”
The many short scenes yomp forward at a brisk pace in the first half, but slow as Siward resorts to violence and despair through Act Two. And the set's steeply-raked steps are well-used to help keep your eye interested on the static stage design
Possibly Macbeth's sequel even leaves room for a sequel to Dunsinane. Or a prequel?
Greig sidesteps the potential bigger story of Gruach, picking her up somewhere before she was the guilt-ravaged wreck we left for dead at the end of Macbeth.
The revival of the drama in the run-up to Scottish independence is perfectly - some might say cynically - timed.
Yet a seat at Dunsinane is the perfect place to think about the questions we're asking ourselves about Scotland and her past - as we plan her future.
Dunsinane is at Eden Court until Saturday.