by David Greig.
Hampstead Theatre Eton Avenue Swiss Cottage NW3 3EU To 6 March 2010.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 6 March 2.3-pm.
Captioned 2 March.
Runs 2hr 40min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7722 9301.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 20 February.
The RSC conquers Hampstead.
For ‘cold’ read ‘hot’, for ‘clans’ read ‘ethnic groupings’, for ‘mountains’ read ‘mountains’. Though clans aren’t mentioned in Scottish playwright David Greig’s new Royal Shakespeare Company play. Nor is the dread theatrical term ‘Macbeth’ though it’s with his defeat that Greig begins.
But the connections with peace-through-war incursions in Afghanistan shout self-evidently, even as they’re distanced through the specifics of a setting detached by centuries. England’s military leader, Northumbrian lord Siward, is at sea in a world where society, loyalties and mindsets are so at variance with his. Includingthe new king, Malcolm’s who Shakespeare idealised, though some modern directors have felt a need to undermine the happy ending.
They’d love Greig’s Malcolm, calculating, cold and corrupt, but at least knowing how to hold power through apparent weakness. What’s non-Shakespearean here is the survival of Lady Macbeth, given her historical name Gruach, who takes rebelliously to the mountains after her husband’s death.
She’s someone who can’t be pinned-down, and is always capable of surprises. Siobhan Redmond maintains a mystery and unpredictability beneath a surface even more complex than Brian Ferguson’s equally self-contained Malcolm. With him, it seems insolence and corruption; with her emotional invulnerability and an outcast’s determined mission. Both stand upright; she only cracks when finally alone, in an emotional agony that will turn into the centuries of unavoidable revenge she’s offered Siward.
Reconfiguring Hampstead, with audience on two sides, Robert Innes Hopkins’s stone-slab set backed by rising contours of more stone, allows for epic and intimate scenes, Roxana Silbert’s direction confidently handles both, while the mood’s set by Ewan Stewart’s Macduff, often silent, advising the English on the complex of loyalties and unwritten laws underpinning power in Scotland.
Occasionally, when the narrative temperature drops, Greig seems to be presenting ideas that haven’t grown immediately from the action. But generally he maintains an impressive match of action, ideas and occasional comedy among the foot-soldiery, with their regional English accents, as Jonny Phillips’ raucously conscientious Siward is dragged from conventional command into a personal pilgrimage to Gruach, and cultural confusion wipes out conventional battle-lines and expectations in this convincingly imagined drama.
Soldier: Jacob Anderson.
Malcolm: Brian Ferguson.
Gruach’s Attendant/Hen Girl/Singer: Lisa Hogg.
Soldier/Lord: Joshua Jenkins.
Egham: Alex Mann.
Soldier/Lord: Tony McGeever.
Gruach’s Attendant/Singer: Mairi Morrison.
Siward: Jonny Phillips.
Gruach: Siobhan Redmond.
Soldier/Lord: Daniel Rose.
Macduff: ewan Stewart.
Boy Soldier: Sam Swann.
English Army: Michael Amaning, Martin Bassindale, Joshua Campbell, Benjamin Cawley, Kassidy Chaplin, Rasfan Haval, Jeremy Irvine, Malachi Kirby, Christian Kyriacou, Jay Sentrosi, Hauk Pattison, Tom Ross-Williams.
Director: Roxana Silbert.
Designer: Robert Innes Hopkins.
Lighting: Chahine Yavroyan.
Soumd/Music: Nick Powell.
Movement: Anna Morrissey.
Company Text/voice work: Stephen Kemble.
Fights: Terry King.
Dramaturg: Jeanie O’Hare.
Assistant director: Jane Fallowfield.