Mike Vickers' Blog

June 6, 2011

Dunsinane – a familiar story ?

Filed under: History in the making — derryvickers @ 6:30 am

An interesting new play by David Greig, first shown at the Hampstead Theatre in 2010 came to the Lyceum and we saw the last performance. 

It is a sequel to Shakespeare’s Macbeth.  Malcolm is King but Lady Macbeth, Gruach, is still alive and well and has held on to the title of Queen.  She has a son, by a previous husband, and considers him the rightful heir.  Siward, the real force behind the downfall of Macbeth is portrayed as a do good English general resolved to bring peace to Scotland (in practice Siward was Earl of Northumberland and probably Scandinavian).  He tours all of Scotland talking to all the warring chiefs and eventually corrals them to come to Dunsinane where Gruach still occupies the castle.  There he harangues the chiefs and pronounces that the only solution to Scotland’s warring is for Malcolm to marry Gruach and for Gruach’s son to be proclaimed the heir.  Both agree but the first act finishes with Gruach, who had guessed at such a proposal,  having her forces capture both Malcolm and Siward. 

The English army intervenes and in the second act both are freed and Siward having recognised the failure of his grand alliance undertakes a gruelling search for Gruach’s son to have him put to death.  After slaughtering many Scots the son is found and Siward murders the son.  Siward is verbally attacked from all sides, his own troops who just can’t stand a winter in the Scottish climate, and from Malcolm who although weak survives because he plays the chieftains off one against the other, and they recognise him as not a leader and of little threat to their independence.  Siward, who is growing weary and  suffering mental anguish, is increasingly  recognising his attempts even with the power of his English army, that he is on a hiding to nothing and heads off to find Gruach with his wide eyed young solder (good King Wenceslas like) .  He eventually finds Gruach and has brought Gruach’s dead son for her to royal bury  but finds that a young local girl has already conceived of a son by Gruach’s son.  Siward threatens to kill the baby if Gruach doesn’t give up her right to be Queen.  She faces him out, saying ‘Oh, how in love you are with your good intentions’, the snow falls and he is defeated and retreats with his boy soldier.  The solder asks where they are to go but he has no answer – a wandering Jew.

Many have commented on the analogy with Iraq and Afghanistan – Afghanistan I think.  There is even a maid who entices an English solder to join her and knifes him only to kill herself.  But without this analogy the play stand on its own; it brings out the folly of occupying forces, high intentions collapsing into barbarity when good intentions fail;  that there is always a role for the conniver and that the ones who have strong beliefs will carry the day even if they are wrong.

Gruach was played by Siobhan Redmond with appropriately fiery red hair, Jonny Phillips as Siward and Brian Ferguson as Malcolm.  Not Shakespeare but a plausible and welcome sequel.

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