The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 24th September, 2013
David Grieg’s “sequel” to Macbeth begins with the English army pretending to be trees. It’s an almost drama lesson kind of a moment and establishes the tone very rapidly. These are soldiers abroad, bluff English lads with earthy humour and a job to do.
That job is to overthrow a tyrant and bring peace to the warring nation of Scotland. There is contention about Malcolm’s claim to the throne. It turns out that the tyrant’s wife’s death was misreported. She appears, very much alive with news of a son and heir – from her first husband… This boy is in hiding and the people are getting behind him.
Grieg dispenses with iambic pentameter and gives us contemporary dialogue albeit in historical costume and an emblematic setting. Parallels with the 21st century are obvious. We think of Iraq and Afghanistan and now (since I first saw this production at the RSC) Syria, and the question of military intervention there. Taking out the tyrant is all well and good but what next?
This is the problem facing Jonny Phillips as Siward, portrayed as a decent man trying to manage a difficult situation. Phillips is every inch the commander, a Game of Thrones hero. His adversary is Gruach, Macbeth’s widow – an excellent Siobhan Redmond, who seduces and beguiles, hinting at the dangerous woman she always was.
A strong ensemble includes Tom Gill as the boy soldier who serves as our narrator in his letters home to Mum, Joshua Jenkins as Eric the archer who seeks the more fleshly spoils of war, and Sandy Grierson as a less than ideal Malcolm, self-serving and arrogant. I particularly liked Alex Mann’s Egham, who provides a lot of the humour as he tries to make an inventory for Scotland’s treasury.
Roxana Silbert, now artistic director of the REP, revives her production from the RSC, as a means of setting out her stall. With this production she shows she can sustain our interest with some complex comings-and-goings, and create provocative dramatic action. The play is very much from the soldiers’ point of view and we get the sense that Silbert understands these rather masculine attitudes – I was reminded of Kathryn Bigelow and The Hurt Locker.
That Lady Macbeth’s singing attendants are more than a little Middle Eastern in their dress over-emphasises the point. We get the point and would get the point if they were in kilts or army blankets.
Beautifully designed by Robert Innes Hopkins, this is a good-looking production that brings to the fore some knotty moral questions without necessarily offering answers.