Dunsinane at the Theatre Royal, Bath

IN Act 5 Scene V of the Scottish Play, a cry is heard and Seyton tells Macbeth “The Queen, my lord, is dead” … but her suicide is offstage.

What if this had been false information and the queen had lived on after the death of her husband?

It’s this question that David Greig explores in his play Dunsinane, commissioned and performed by the National Theatre of Scot­land, a company making its Bath Theatre Royal debut this week until Saturday 12th October.

The English, determined to secure the border between Northumberland and Scotland, are backing the claim of Malcolm to the throne, and the play begins as the soldiers set sail from the Kent coast to take their chosen king to replace the murderous Macbeth.

Hand them branches and they become the celebrated Birnam Wood on its march to Dunsinane castle, where most of the action occurs.

Warlord Siward leads the English army, but, after dispatching Macbeth, finds his way barred by the flame-headed queen, Gruach, a Celtic enchantress whose son by her first husband seems to have a better claim to the throne than the English favourite.

Before long Siward is in her power and in her bed, but Gruach’s solution – to marry Siward and link Scotland and England – is scuppered by Siward’s own plan that she should marry Malcolm in the cause of Scottish peace.

Snow and blood swirl around the stage in this powerful and thought-provoking piece, which includes some memorable dramatic writing rich in political insight, social commentary and fighting talk.

Malcolm, played with wry understatement by Sandy Grierson, is a pragmatist with a very un-politician-like habit of answering questions and saying what he means.

The grizzled Siward (Jonny Phillips) tries to do what’s right, even if he must suffer for it, and Siobhan Redmond returns to the role of Gruach for the third time. She convincingly weaves her spells, all the time aided by her attendants singing in haunting Gaelic and an aura of power and mystery that pervades the stage.

The live three piece band provides a soundscape that veers from ethereal quiet to the pounding drums of war in this extraordinary play.

Not only does it project the story of Macbeth, but it demonstrates the unchanging nature of human behaviour, the stupidity of boys sent to war, the callous selfishness of the ruling classes and the brutality that is excused in the name of right.

It’s no surprise that Dunsinane has won so many awards, and local audiences are fortunate to have the chance to see this production, directed by Roxana Silbert.


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