review by: Connor J. Hogan
Nowadays, we seem bombarded with sequels. From blockbuster Jurassic World to art house film Before Midnight, our stories are less original today than they’ve ever been. For some, this might seem like lazy artmaking, or financial exploitation, and in some cases, this is exactly correct. But we also live in a time where we’ve broken from traditional narrative structures. We have movies like Interstellar, and Inception where plots are layered on plots. We have plays like Posner’s own Stupid Fucking Bird, and Life Sucks where characters step out of themselves and reflect on their action and choice, seeking guidance from the audience. So is it so preposterous that there is a sequel to Macbeth? Well, Dunsinane, produced by National Theatre of Scotland and the Royal Shakespeare Company, is (and is not) what happens after tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.
Dunsinane, written by Scottish Playwright David Greig, starts deep in the forest of Birnham Wood with the English army advancing on Dunsinane, King Macbeth’s last foothold in Scotland. The battle is fast. Macbeth falls with a spear in his back. Siward, the general of the English Army (Darrell D’Silva) assumes his work here is done. But when he tries to crown the son of former King Duncan, Malcolm (Ewan Donald), as King, he is met with some opposition. A challenge to the throne presents itself from Lady Mac—er, I mean, Queen Gruach (Sioabhan Redmond). Whereas Shakespeare wrote Lady Macbeth a beautiful descent into madness and eventual death, Dunsinane presupposes, maybe she didn’t? Siward and his occupying English army remain and alliances, too numerous to describe here, are drawn on both sides.
So there’s definitely a colonialism thing happening here in Dunsinane, which is kind of cool; there’s also a strong women thing happening, also cool. Unfortunately, I had a lot of questions for Dunsinane. Why this story now? How do these characters inform an occupational narrative? Why just one strong woman? For a lot of Dunsinane, I felt like I was watching one of two things: an American occupation of a Middle Eastern country, or my two long lost cousins having a fight that I knew nothing about. I spent more time racking my brain about what had happened in Macbeth than taking in the story that was happening before me.
The performances were hit and miss. Redmond as the once Lady Macbeth could electrify, and bore within mere seconds of each other. In her scenes with D’Silva, she was a woman using the tools at her disposal to do the best she could for her country. However, when she was up against others, she fell flat, unable to charm, or intrigue. D’Silva as the war-weary Siward started off slow, but really hit his stride in the second act. And Ewan Donald as the manipulating Malcolm was superb. His deadpan delivery, and blasé villainy show us that sometimes the worst person is the person who doesn’t care. The onstage band was phenomenal, and gave a nice, albeit anachronistic, underscore the entire show.
Dunsinane is good, but problematic. Making its American debut here at Sidney Harman Hall is an odd choice, however, as it seems meant for a more intimate venue. Also, I advise you give Macbeth a once over before you see this one, or else you might just get lost in the Birnham wood.
Dunsinane is playing at Sidney Harman Hall through February 21st. Tickets and details here