Something extraordinary is happening on Scotland’s stages these days, and the evidence can be found in two productions that serve as wrenching meditations on the futility (and inevitability) of wars both past and present.
First came Gregory Burke’s play “Black Watch.” A galvanic account of the fabled Scottish regiment of the title during the time it served in the war in Iraq, it debuted at the National Theatre of Scotland in 2006, and subsequently made two acclaimed tours to Chicago.
Now comes David Greig’s magnificent play “Dunsinane,” searingly directed by Roxana Silbert. Though billed as a sequel to Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” it is clearly a meditation on the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, even if it is cleverly veiled beneath a mythic tale set in medieval Scotland. First staged in London in 2010, this co-production with the Royal Shakespeare Company is now being presented here under the auspices of the Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s invaluable World’s Stage series.
‘DUNSINANE’ Highly recommended When: Through March 22 Where: The National Theatre of Scotland and Royal Shakespeare Company at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 E. Grand on Navy Pier Tickets: $58 – $78 Info: (312) 595-5600; http://www.chicagoshakes.com Run time: 2 hours and 25 minutes with one intermission
As those familiar with “Macbeth” will recall, that play chronicled how the triumphant general of the title, urged on by his ambitious wife, engineered a series of assassinations that would result in his becoming King of Scotland. All this culminated in his own slaughter by Macduff, a Scottish nobleman, after what we are told is the earlier suicide of Lady Macbeth.
Greig suggests two things that become the catalysts for “Dunsinane.”
First, Lady Macbeth — here referred to as the Scottish Queen Gruach, and played to stunning effect by the intensely sensual and commanding Siobhan Redmon — did not commit suicide. Alive and well and as seductive as ever, she has no intention of easily relinquishing her status. And she is quite the effective strategist.
Second, Macbeth’s bloody machinations have triggered a ferocious, multi-pronged civil war. To establish some sort of peace and an orderly succession for Malcolm, the new Scottish king, the English army has arrived under the command of Siward (Darrell D’Silva, an actor of immense presence and emotional range, whose sexual chemistry with Redmon heats up the stage).
But Malcolm (Ewan Donald, ideal as an unctuous, alternately weak and wily power broker) is a man much like such recent counterparts as, say, Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai or various leaders in post-Saddam Iraq. And Scotland very quickly erupts in the most horrific carnage and betrayals, with no one able to claim a real victory, and physically and psychologically damaged soldiers and civilians strewn everywhere. Sound familiar?
Leading us through much of the story is a very young, first-time soldier (played by the superb Tom Gill, who recalls a long-ago Kenneth Branagh). But Silbert has gathered a wholly brilliant ensemble, as well as an onstage trio of musicians (Rosalind Acton, Robert Owen and Andy Taylor on cello, percussion and guitar), who supply the haunting modern riffs on Celtic airs.
As for Greig, he is a marvelous, eloquent writer who can make sparks fly in erotically charged scenes as well as political and battlefield encounters. And his extraordinary flair for conflating human behavior from one century to another is nothing short of witchcraft.