What if Shakespeare’s Macbeth wasn’t the end of the story? It’s intriguing, isn’t it; to consider a world in which Lady Macbeth might have survived, for she would most certainly not have gone quietly into the night. Playwright David Greig thought so too and, beginning March 27th, LA Shakespeare lovers will have a chance to see his modern day sequel to the Scottish Play when the National Theatre of Scotland and the Royal Shakespeare Company bring Dunsinane to The Wallis in Beverly Hills.
Greig has said the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad was among the impulses behind this play, although it also speaks to the recent referendum on Scottish independence. The thrilling production presents uncanny parallels between medieval and present-day politics, power, and sex in a sophisticated tale that is fierce one minute and bitingly funny the next.
Today, Associate Director Luke Kernaghan gives us an idea what to expect in the world of Dunsinane.
Luke, how does the play speak to issues of politics and unrest today within the context of continuing the Macbeth story?
The genius of David Greig’s writing is that he takes a story and characters that we are familiar with, and uses them as a starting point for something entirely new. Ostensibly, Dunsinane tells the story of what happened historically in Scotland after the events of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. However, as with Shakespeare’s own plays, the universality of the themes and human emotions makes the play feel very contemporary. There are also many political and military resonances with our world today.
In your opinion, what do you think David Greig intended to say with the play and how have you and the director worked to serve that vision?
I think David intended many things with this play. I think it asks a fundamental question about how far a ‘good’ man will go to achieve what he sees as being the ‘right’ thing. Is there even such a thing as ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, and does thinking in absolutes like this benefit or hinder? David clearly intended to draw parallels to the military situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, but he doesn’t try to offer solutions to the complex problems or issues he highlights. There is also something to be said about reclaiming the story. Shakespeare’s Macbeth is known as the Scottish Play, and yet it was written by an Englishman. It’s almost as though this play, Dunsinane, is an authentically Scottish perspective on the story.
Photos of the production are striking. How have the cast and creative team captured Dunsinane’s bold energy with their work?
One of the words that our director, Roxana Silbert, uses to describe this world is “raw”: this is a country in which people’s choices are about survival, every minute is about life or death. It was very important that this element of risk and danger be ever-present. It is a visually beautiful play, but it is also very dirty and rough. We also have a three-piece live band on stage, playing incredible music composed by Nick Powell. The music is a fascinating blend of traditional and modern, in fact the very first sound of the play is a rather punk-flavoured electric guitar strum! Also, being a play about war, we have exciting battles and sword fights, and even live archery on stage.
It sounds quite passionate. How have American audiences responded to the tour?
We’ve been very fortunate to take this play around the world and it has been fascinating seeing how different audiences react, but also how common some of these themes are. We performed in Moscow last year, when the conflict in the Ukraine was in the headlines, and audience members would come up to us afterwards and tell us how this was their play, their story. So far, our American audiences have been fantastic. They have absolutely responded to the political parallels, but also to the humour in the text. David’s writing really highlights how tragedy and comedy sit alongside each other.
What do you think Shakespeare might say were he to see David Greig’s play?
I don’t think I could begin to speak for Shakespeare! I’m not a superstitious man, but even I can’t ignore all of the theatrical traditions around the Scottish Play. In fact, in Dunsinane we never actually mention the word “Macbeth”, always referring to him as the “Tyrant”!
(Laughing) I know what you mean, Luke. You’re wise not to tempt fate…
Click Here for more photos from the production.
March 27 – April 5, 2015 (opening night 3/28)
National Theatre of Scotland and the Royal Shakespeare Company
The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd. Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Tickets: (310) 746.4000 or www.thewallis.org
Photos courtesy of KPO Photo