IN a 30 year acting career that has included spells with the Royal Shakespeare Company, one role Siobhan Redmond has never played is Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth.
Fortunately now she no longer needs to, not after playing Scottish playwright David Greig’s version of the character in Dunsinane.
"I’ve played Mrs MacDuff, but I haven’t played Mrs Macbeth," she said.
"To be honest with you, I’m very happy not to play Shakespeare’s lady as long as I get to play David’s — David’s written more jokes for her."
Greig’s 2010 play begins where Shakespeare’s 1606 play ends. Macbeth has been defeated and killed by an invading English army which puts Macbeth’s rival Malcolm Canmore on the throne.
Where Greig parts company with Shakespeare is that his version of Lady MacBeth, Gruach, has survived her husband.
English general Siward (Jonny Phillips) is the effective ruler of Scotland as head of the occupying army, but as his men come under attack from guerrilla forces loyal to the old regime and discontent grows within his ranks, he is increasingly drawn to Macbeth’s widow, the one person he feels he can share responsibility with.
The first-ever co-production between the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre of Scotland, the play premiered with a run on London’s West End before transferring to Edinburgh and Glasgow, but this month’s run at Eden Court will be the first time it has been seen in the north of Scotland — the power base of the real Macbeth, Scotland’s last native Gaelic speaking king.
"We’re really excited about that because we’ve never been any further north than the Central Belt and it’s a play that’s got a strong, strong connection to the north," Redmond said.
"We’re really hoping that the people in the north are pleased to have it there and enjoy it as much as we enjoy doing it."
So much so that this is the only play Redmond has returned to for a third time.
"I’ve done long runs of shows, so there are plays I’ve done longer, but this is the play I’ve returned to more often than any other," she pointed out.
"This play has yielded rewards in that respect. When you return to it, it’s like looking into a rock pool. It’s very clear and you think you can see absolutely everything, but the closer you look, the more new things you see in there. David has pulled off something very special with this play — but then I’m biased! I fell in love with it the first time I read it."
Though there were some tweaks to the script following the first run, no major changes have been required, just as Redmond suggests it would be perverse to change her approach to playing such a well written character as Gruach.
"I’ll suddenly perceive a new possibility in a line which I hadn’t seen before and it’s fun. It’s also fun to find a place where she might actually be joking more than she was the first time we did the play," she said.
"Some things have changed because we’ve done the show with slight differences in the cast — and that’s happened again because we have two new principal actors in the show and have had to do some reshuffling with the soldiers because one of them was unwell. We’re also playing it in bigger theatre than we’ve played before, so there are always new things to keep it fresh for us."
While Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth is driven by a ruthless ambition that inspires her husband to commit murder time and again, Greig’s play sees another side to Gruach and one more in keeping with the real 11th century Scottish queen.
"It’s exciting to see a bit more of that woman we think we know. This is another manifestation of her, which in some respects is closer to the historical truth as we know it," Redmond said.
"She’s a cultured, witty woman, she’s a political animal in her own right. She has a reputation and she is able to exploit people’s knowledge or what they think they know about her by playing on that or by playing against it according to what suits her. What she is, first and foremost, is a great politician."
The play itself is as much a political drama as a historical one.
Greig has admitted that the inspiration came from seeing a version of the play and thinking the real story was what happened after the fall of the tyrant, especially with more recent experiences of controversial peace-keeping missions in Iraq and Afghanistan in mind.
Changes here in Scotland, with the election of the first majority SNP government at Holyrood and next year’s independence referendum, can also been interpreted as chiming with the play’s themes.
"What’s very interesting it that both times we have done it before, it seems to be very timely," Redmond commented
"The last time we did it was just after the election in Scotland, and The Times put Jonny Phillips in his battle-stained St George’s cross on the front page! I’m not expecting it to be quite so topical in the same way, but it will be interesting to see what resonances there are this time.
"I think one of the reasons why this play has proven so popular is that it looks at a cross-section of society. It’s not just dealing with the machinations of the aristocracy. It’s looking at the rank and file — very young boys who are away from home, fighting for a cause that they may not understand fully or believe in."
A well known face on our television screens whether playing comedy in Alfresco or The High Life or drama in Bulman, Between The Lines or Holby City, lately Redmond has been concentrating on the stage, which suits her.
"I instinctively feel more at home on the stage," she said.
"That’s not to say I don’t enjoy working with cameras, but it was the prospect of working in the theatre that drew me into the profession."
• Siobhan Redmond stars in Dunsinane by David Greig at the Empire Theatre, Eden Court, on Saturday 24th August (preview) and from Tuesday 27th to Saturday 31st August at 7.30pm with Thursday and Saturday matinees at 2pm. It then moves on to His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen from Tuesday 3rd to Saturday 7th September.