Shakespeare Theatre’s ‘Dunsinane’: Stirring sequel to ‘Macbeth’

Playwright David Grieg clearly draws parallels to the West’s 21st century “nation building” confrontation with a violent and seemingly intractable Middle East.

Scene from Dunsinane.
Darrell D’Silva, as Siward and Siobhan Redmond as Gruach, (Lady Macbeth). Credit: KPO photo.

WASHINGTON, February 11, 2015 – Shades of Macbeth’s shade: The National Theatre of Scotland brings the star power of two lead actors and the award winning talents of Scottish playwright and director David Greig to Sidney Harmon Hall this month in their impressive production of “Dunsinane.”

Greig’s 2010 drama, an imaginative sequel to William Shakespeare’s original “Macbeth,” was staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company that year in the London area’s Hampstead Theatre.

Scene from Dunsinane.
Darrell D’Silva as Siward and Siobhan Redmond as Gruach, (Lady Macbeth). Credit: KPO photo.

Directed here by Roxana Silbert, the associate director of the original production, this compelling U.S. premiere of “Dunsinane” marks another inning in the intriguing, ongoing partnership between the National Theatre of Scotland and the Shakespeare Theatre Company.

The plot of “Dunsinane”—the name of Scottish stronghold and hilltop fortress that housed Macbeth’s castle and is now the effective prison of the still very-much alive Lady Macbeth—unfolds somewhat after the conclusion of Shakespeare’s play. Chaos reigns, and English forces, under their energetic general Siward, have been sent to restore order.

Having been led to believe Lady Macbeth (called Gruach in Greig’s play) was dead, Siward is surprised to find her very much alive. Strangely attracted to her, Siward finds himself burdened primarily with the thankless task of propping up the weak and self-absorbed new king, Malcolm, while at the same time crafting a political solution to deal with the continuing threat of Gruach’s continued palace intrigue.

The raw and dangerous chemistry between Siobhan Redman as Lady Macbeth/Gruach and Darrell D’Silva’s Siward bubbles to the surface when Siward seduces the former Scottish queen even as he calls upon Parliament to support the marriage of King Malcolm—played with sinister delight by Ewan Donald—and Gruach to bring peace among the rival family factions.

Ewan Donald's young King Malcolm.
Ewan Donald’s young King Malcolm poses problems for Siward as well. (Credit: KPO Photo)

The situation is further complicated by English difficulties in communicating with the Scots. Keith Fleming’s performance as Macduff underscores one of the underlying themes of the play, as he conspires with King Malcolm to feed Siward misinformation, positioning himself as a translator and local confidant of the English, purporting to bridge the language barrier between the English forces and the Scottish characters who speak Gaelic.

All hell breaks loose on the night of the royal wedding, as the Queen’s tattered army storms the castle, freeing her in a violent raid that leaves Siward’s garrison in a shambles and the commander in a vengeful mood. The guerilla resistance is formidable, forcing Siward to track down and execute the Queen’s son in a misguided attempt to end the conflict.

In a climactic winter confrontation with Lady Macbeth, Siward poses the haunting question, “Will this country ever be at peace?” As the snow casts a chilling pall over the stage in the climactic confrontation with Siward, Lady Macbeth steely resistance confirms the Scottish resolve to sacrifice generations of her clan’s lineage to confront English dominance, a dilemma playwright Grieg clearly intends as a parallel to the West’s 21st century “nation building” confrontation with a violent and intractable Middle East.

As Lady Macbeth/Gruach, Siobhan Redmond delivers a steely performance in Greig’s sequel to Shakespeare’s dark tragedy, perhaps due at least in part to the raw chemistry she’s developed of over two decades’ experience working on stage with Darrell D’Silva. His penetrating eyes and commanding presence as Siward carry much of the weight of this production performance as he takes on the impossible task of restoring order after the fall of Macbeth, the tyrant usurper king.

Darrell D’Silva as Siward, Keith Fleming as Macduff.
Darrell D’Silva as Siward, Keith Fleming as Macduff. (Credit: KPO Photo)

Director Roxana Silbert and designer Robert Innes Hopkins have created a haunting set for this production, as they transform Sidney Harmon Hall’s massive stage space into an impressive tiered fortress and surrounding forest. The setting takes Siward’s occupying army through the full cycle of four seasons as they come to grips with an entrenched guerilla resistance force, culminating in a snowy winter confrontation with Lady Macbeth.

A surprising artistic element that I didn’t expect in this production was the presence on the edge of the stage of musical director and cellist Rosalind Acton. Accompanied by percussionist Robert Owen and guitarist Andy Taylor, the musicians highlight the story arc with dramatic interludes that set the stage for the seasonal and sometimes violent transitions, adding considerable emotional depth to the performance.

“I’m delighted that “Dunsinane” is having its American premiere,” notes playwright David Greig. The current production arrives in the U. S. after a successful 2014 tour of East Asia and Russia in 2014.

“Wherever “Dunsinane” goes,” he notes, “new audiences seem to bring new context and light the play up in a different way,” adding that he’s eager “to find out how the story comes in Washington, D.C.”

Ironically—or not—“Dunsinane’s” international appeal on tour has sparked an ongoing re-examination of our current problems with political occupation and insurgent opposition kicked off by the post 9/11 conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Regarded as defensive maneuvers in the West, the ongoing troubles are viewed by many Muslims in the Middle East as a resumption of the Crusades.

In an obvious parallel, Greig’s provocative sequel re-examines, from the Scottish literary tradition, the political conflict between Great Britain and Scotland with a contemporary lens. The focus became all the more relevant during the run-up to Scotland’s referendum on independence last year—a referendum that, somewhat ironically, they rejected.

Rating: **** (4 out of 4 stars)

Running time: Approximately two and one-half hours.

David Greig’s “Dunsinane” continues at the Shakespeare Theatre’s Sidney Harman Hall through February 21. Address: 610 F. St. NW, Washington, D.C.

Tickets and Information: Tickets run from $20 to $110. Call 202-547-1122 or visit

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