Dunsinane, at the Hampstead Theatre

all she asked for was a hug

How important is nationality? In the eleventh century Scotland of Dunsinane, being taken over by the English, it’s everything. Scottish playwright David Greig and director Roxana Silbert start Dunsinane post-Macbeth: Malcolm is King, Macduff greets the English army, and Lady Macbeth, known here is Gruach, is alive and has a son. Just as Macbeth is a play about the nature of kingship, Dunsinane is a play questioning the importance of nationality.

Here Scotland is too difficult to be understood by the English, from the cold weather, Gaelic language, and even their own use of the English language. “Be careful you don’t lose your mind”, warns one character about Scotland to Siward, the English army leader. Robert Innes Hopkins creative design presents Scotland, like Macbeth, as a place of perpetual darkness. It has withered trees, extreme coldness, and a large cross looming over it. Only in the climax is there a suggestion of hope when it is brighter, scenic, and the snow falls.

In this world of swordfights, soldiers, and kings, Gruach and her assistants are strong female figures. Gruach is pre-Raphaelite meets Florence Welch, and is portayed perfectly by Siobhan Redmond. The soldiers, however, appear at one point like modern day football hooligans with the St George’s Cross on their chests drinking and cheering “England, England.” The majority of the scenes with the soldiers show them as confused, injured, and dying, which makes us question the purpose of war, be it in this play or today. It is powerful imagery, especially before a General Election, reminding us of Afghanistan and Iraq.

At three hours long the play is somewhat woolly, moving slowly and taking on more than it needs to. It excels with its social commentary rather than silly humour, which leaves the audience thinking not just about political problems in eleventh century but also right now.

Runs till 6 March.

To see or not to see: * * *


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