A dramatic tour de force

Mask Theatre production of Dunsinane at the Knight's Theatre, Peterborough Cathedral EMN-180601-165156009
Mask Theatre production of Dunsinane at the Knight's Theatre, Peterborough Cathedral EMN-180601-165156009

It’s a brave author who undertakes to write a sequel to one of Shakespeare’s best known plays. But this is what David Greig does in Dunsinane, a 2010 commission from the Royal Shakespeare Company which starts roughly at the point where Macbeth leaves off.

Similarly it’s a brave theatre company which undertakes a production of a play which deals exclusively in bloodshed, violence, and the conflict between an occupying force and an invaded country. But this is what Mask Theatre does in this vivid and imaginative performance in Peterborough Cathedral.

As well as Macbeth itself Dunsinane includes echoes of other Shakespeare plays including Julius Caesar, Richard III, and even Henry V. And like Shakespeare David Greig portrays his characters as rounded individuals, human and credible even when misguided, confused, or lost. For instance Siward, leader of the invading English army, attempts to dispense what he sees as justice fairly and impartially. But in a splendidly macho performance by Alex Tyler he gradually loses his way amid the intrigue and confusion prevailing at King Malcolm’s court.

As his alter ego, Jonni Hilton is likeable and sympathetic playing the anti-hero Egham, who is only concerned with survival and the personal comforts he can wrest from the situation. The slightly camp Malcolm, nicely played by Matthew Robertson, analyses and manipulates the tortuous dealings of the Scottish nobles in a way that is beyond the comprehension of the forthright Siward.

Meanwhile Harvey Jones, the ubiquitous boy soldier, delivers a commendably sensitive performance as the narrator who holds the many segments of the play together. But it’s Becky Owen-Fisher as Lady Macbeth aka Gruach who ultimately steals the show. Becky’s electrically charged stage presence is always compelling and commanding and never more so than in her politically motivated seduction of Siward. A scene which inevitably recalls the seduction of Lady Anne by Richard III.

There are also authentic and spirited contributions from Kevin McCabe and Janet Wright plus excellent ensemble work from the large company of courtiers, soldiers and prisoners. I particularly enjoyed the stately dance at the end of the first half, though I could happily have dispensed with the ugly and anachronistic combat suits.

Playing down the length of the atmospheric Knights’ Chamber, Mask Theatre and its director Catherine Myland have achieved a dramatic tour de force in a production which also includes effective blocking, clear diction, authentic Scottish accents, snatches of Gaelic, and some haunting vocal laments.


You can see Dunsinane, by Mask Theatre, until January 13, The Knights’ Chamber, Peterborough Cathedral