Wednesday, 24 February 2010


22/2/10, Hampstead Theatre

Another cracker from David Greig, whose plays are consistently witty, surprising and politically engaged, in an RSC production by Roxana Silbert (who directed Orphans, which we saw at Edinburgh).

His starting point is the end of Macbeth. The tyrant (never named) is killed and replaced on the throne by a puppet, Malcolm, supported by an invading English force led bu Siward (Jonny Phillips), a bluff, tough so9ldier. But Macbeth's widow, Gruach, and her son have survived as a focus for discontent and rebellion.

Siward, attempting to impose peace by force, is baffled by a country where the local warlords apparently prefer continued violence and instability and rivalry to peaceful coexistence. Think Afghanistan.

Malcolm is a wonderfully cynical, camp figure who educates Siward gradually in the realities of Scottish politics, where nothing is ever quite as it seems. He's played by the red-headed Brian Ferguson who reminded us of the brilliant Jonathan Slinger in the RSC's The Histories. Gruach is Siobhan Redmond, slinky and seductive in black dress and spectacular red wig.

There are English soldiers lamenting their fate at being stranded in this cold,w et, craggy, boggy inhospitable country; and a comic English officer, Egham, played by Alex Mann, first seen moaning self-pityingly with an arrow in his arm, who turns out to be duplicitous and greedy as well as charmingly baffled by the Scots (he promises Gruach her son will be safe in hiding in some Glen, in exchange for liberty for his men to trade and buy provisions; but when it suits him happily betrays the boy to Siward).

Hampstead Theatre reconfigured to create a thrust stage by putting part of the audience at one side of the stage, facing a simple set of piled-up rocks. A live three-piece band on stage (cello, guitar, percussion) and two women (Gruach's attendants, in Muslim-style headscarves) who sing Gaelic songs. Siward accuses them of sending secret messages to those outside the castle in their singing; Gruach scoffs; by the end you think he may have been right.

A clever, well-acted and witty parable about the modern world, the perils of military intervention in other people's affairs, the difficulties of exporting political systems developed in one (supposedly enlightened) country into another (more backward?) country, and about Scots-English relations down the centuries.

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