Oct 3 2013 | By More

★★★★☆   Subtlety finds solid ground

King’s Theatre
Tue 1 – Sat 5 October 2013
Review by Hugh Simpson

David Greig’s Dunsinane, a ‘continuation’ of Macbeth with nods to contemporary events, is once again on tour thanks to the National Theatre of Scotland and the Royal Shakespeare Company, and if anything it seems like an even better play than it did last time round.

Siobhan Redmond (Grauch) and Jonny Phillips (Siward). Photo © Richard Campbell

Siobhan Redmond (Grauch) and Jonny Phillips (Siward).
Photo © Richard Campbell

Macbeth (although he is never named as such in the play) has been defeated but Gruach, the ‘Lady Macbeth’ figure, is still very much alive, and neither Malcolm nor the English army are as welcome in Scotland as their commander Siward had expected.

Enough time has now gone by since the play’s first performance for any concerns about its status as a ‘sequel’ to Shakespeare to diminish in importance. At first, audiences drew parallels between the ‘liberating’ army that outstays any welcome it may have imagined it deserved and military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. While this still looms large, other events now come to mind – a sign that Greig’s concerns are timeless rather than topical.

The insistence that ‘something has to be done’, for example, even if no-one seems to be clear exactly what that should be, brings recent tragedies in Syria to mind. Meanwhile, the way that the inhabitants of Scotland seem content to fight amongst themselves while constantly defining themselves in terms of their relationship with England, brings much of recent Scottish political discourse into sharp relief.

Since the play carefully avoids any glib, easy answers, it is a shame that the anti-Scottish barbs of the English characters are still played so heavy-handedly. This is in contrast to much of the subtlety on display elsewhere – notably from Siobhan Redmond, whose endlessly mysterious and complex performance as Gruach continues to dominate proceedings.

A journey of profound mythic grandeur

Tom Gill’s Boy Soldier, who acts as a chorus figure, is a tremendous performance, while Alex Mann’s Lord Egham manages to rein in some of the comic extremes of the character, which helps to bring out the more sinister side of the part. Sandy Grierson, on the other hand, is not quite so successful as Malcolm, managing to suggest the effete dissipation of the role but not so much the sinister political side he must also possess.

Sandy Grierson as Malcolm. Photo © Richard Campbell

Sandy Grierson as Malcolm. Photo © Richard Campbell

Many of those responsible for the 2011 tour are still in place, but nothing about this feels tired. Roxana Silbert’s direction is pacy and assured, making excellent use of the ensemble, while Robert Innes Hopkins’s imposing stage design and Nick Powell’s music enhance the atmosphere to a great degree.

Particularly in Scotland, most attention is directed towards Siobhan Redmond, but it is important to point out just how good Jonny Phillips is in the central role of Siward. Almost from the start, he cuts a suitably weatherbeaten figure as a man who has seen too much killing already.

As the play progresses, the way he conveys, (through movement as much as voice) the pain of a man who is attempting to wrest back control of events, while entirely out of his depth, is simply outstanding. When Shakespeare’s Macbeth says he is already so deep in blood he might as well go on, he is merely rationalising his crimes, but Siward here seems to actually believe it, with terrible consequences.

The climax of the play is a breathtaking piece of writing, acting and directing, as Macbeth and history are left behind in a journey of profound mythic grandeur closer to Lear than to the Scottish Play. The Boy Soldier complains at one point that nothing in Scotland is solid, but even as events dissolve into violence, misunderstanding and helplessness, there remains in this play a real profundity and poetry.

Running time 2 hrs 30 mins
Run ends Saturday 5 October 2013, touring
Daily 7.30 pm, Matinee Sat 2.30 pm
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ
Tickets from

Click on the images below to buy or download the script of Dunsinane from Amazon:

Dunsinane on Tour
1 – 5 Oct Edinburgh
Kings Theatre
0131 529 6000 Book online
8 – 19 Oct Bath
Theatre Royal
01225 448844 Book online



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