BWW Reviews: DUNSINANE In Macbeth's Scotland a Timeless Quest for Justice

The quest for power versus the pursuit of order. The slippery interpretation of "justice." Dunsinane, presented by The Shakespeare Theatre Company through February 21, shows us that the precarious balance among victor, vanquished, and peace-keeper is a timeless dilemma stretching from Macbeth's heaths to the Iraqi dessert.

Dunsinane picks up where Shakespeare's Macbeth leaves off, when the English army, camouflaged as forest trees, kills the tyrant and takes the seat of power. But in the confusion of the skirmish a critical and messy mistake is made: the Queen of Scotland, Lady Macbeth, remains alive. With the queen living and with a claim to the throne, many in the country will refuse to accept a newly-installed king.

We see the struggle of the English commanding officer, Siward, who attempts to negotiate the unspoken and bewildering rules of a foreign land. Siward arrives on the shores a man of principle committed to peace and eager to do what is right to restore calm to a war-torn land. "My job is to build a new kingdom - not to settle old grudges," Siward explains to the Lady. "New government can't be built on top of old wounds."

Yet old wounds become inflamed. We see that in Scotland in 1054, we see that in Afghanistan today (or in Syria, or the Ukraine, or Nigeria...). The National Theatre of Scotland - which presents Dunsinane with the Royal Shakespeare Company at The Shakespeare Theatre Company's Sidney Harman Hall in a limited run - powerfully explored these same murky questions of justice, shifting alliances, morass and morality in the highly successful Black Watch that toured to the Shakespeare Theatre Company earning several awards and nominations in the process.

David Greig's text, which premiered in 2010 in an RSC production in London, is a powerful and provocative contemplation on the ethics of war and political leadership. Greig aptly balances the weight of the issues with scenes of humor and lightness. Although the story itself stretches back a millennium, Grieg's language, cadence and stance make it a freshly contemporary work of theatre.

Siobhan Redmond as Gruach shows us a Lady Macbeth of great intelligence, fire, wit, and vulnerability. In Redmond's capable hands, Gruach is a strong and multi-faceted woman for whom we really care. For this U.S. premiere of Dunsinane, Siobhan Redmond reprises the role that earned her accolades in recent international tours.

Yet it is through actor Darrell D'Silva's English commanding officer Siward that we see the full tragedy unspool. Arriving in the alien land with naïve and untried soldiers full of bravado after a successful conquest, Siward guides with care. He steers away from the politically convenient but bloody options. D'Silva has a great physical presence and his Siward is solid, substantial and reliable. The commander soon learns, however, that nothing is what it seems - not even the boggy ground you walk on can be trusted to support you. Siward transforms, bowing in time under a situation out of control, where each attempt at a solution sparks new quandaries.

Bookending many of the scenes is the commentary and observations of The Boy Soldier. Tom Gill draws us in to this universal exuberance, puzzlement, weariness and longing of a young fighter far from home and figuring things out. Gill artfully opens the play, sets the tone, and with him we trod through the quagmire of the ever-shifting, ever-problematic Scotland.

Ewan Donald as the newly-installed king, Malcolm, must be many things to many people. The actor mines great humor as he artfully unfolds the many surprising and shrewd aspects of what it takes to survive in treacherous times.

Keith Fleming's Macduff shows us an insider's understanding of the ways of the people. He makes us consider what is expedient and what is just. Then, as things get ever more complicated, we reconsider our conclusions though his confidence and knowledge are persuasive.

The cast as a whole is top-notch. Freddie Bennett, George Brockbanks, Toyin Omari-Kinch, Alex Mann, David Mavricos, Arthur McBain, Matt McClure, Shane O'Loughlin and Zach Powell show nuanced and powerful moments throughout. Helen Darbyshire and Mairi Morrison, with their ethereal voices and haunting presence as Gruach's attendants, are memorable and lend a mystifying and unbalanced edge to the production. Live musicians on the stage punctuate each scene; Rosalind Acton (musical director and cello), Robert Owen (percussion) and Andy Taylor (guitar) heighten the mood and are a strong aspect of the staging.

Director Roxana Silbert capably balanced all aspects of the haunting work. Robert Innes Hopkins' flexible design of weighty pieces, stony stairs, religious icons and elements of fire, smoke and iron serve many purposes but ground the production in medieval Scotland.

The genius of Shakespeare is his words, characters and stories that continue to affect us 400 years later. The genius of Dunsinane is that the powerful script and expert cast refresh our understanding of Macbeth and of our own times. Dunsinane is thought-provoking, relevant and haunting theatre.

Runtime: 2 hours, 35 minutes (with one intermission)

Dunsinane runs through February 21 with shows on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Sundays at 7:30 pm; Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm; matinees Saturdays and Sundays at 2 pm with an additional 10 am matinee on Thursday, February 19. The production is at Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20004. For tickets, please visit The Shakespeare Theatre Company website here.

Photo credits: KPO Photo. Darrell D'Silva as Siward; Siobhan Redmond as Gruach (Lady Macbeth)

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From This Author Pamela Roberts