As the National Theatre of Scotland and the Royal Shakespeare Company are once again touring David Greig’s Dunsinane, in preparation to its return to Edinburgh, Emma Hay speaks to Lady Macbeth herself – Siobhan Redmond.
Tell us a little bit of Dunsinane – follows the events that happen at the end of Macbeth – from Lady M’s perspective, what is happening here?
There’s a lot of publicity surrounding Dunsinane that suggests it’s a sequel to Macbeth; this is not the case. Originally, the Royal Shakespeare Company commissioned David Greig to use one of Shakespeare’s works as a jumping off point. So Dunsinane picks up at the end of the story we have already. Siward is coming to Dunsinane to get rid of a tyrant and expecting he’ll be welcomed by relieved citizens. But it’s not what he expected – not everyone is happy he’s there, he’s not everyone’s hero. Some people didn’t think he was a tyrant. The story he’s been spun about the situation in Scotland isn’t true at all.
Dunsinane has been a huge success since its creation in 2010. What do you think has made it so successful?
It’s a heady combination – it was written to reflect the political situation in Afghanistan and Iraq. But it’s also very much about how the Scots and English are, how Scots are with other Scots, in the way that we prefer to ally ourselves with folk down the road rather than those round the corner – or as far as I can tell, that’s what we do. It looks at men and women are together, how it is to be a fighter away from war. It’s also about honour. Honourable war, honourable behaviour.
I’ve returned to this part twice now, it’s appears to be clear and accessible but the more you do it, the more you discover – and I want to do it again and again. Completely of the current time but dealing with then too, what it might have been like in Afghanistan. People come out of this show and say they’ve seen all sorts of relevancies and parallels – it’s a great privilege to be a part of something like that.
Lady Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s most prolific female characters. How does David Greig’s Lady Macbeth differ from Shakespeare’s?
She’s very different; for starters, she has a lot more jokes. Lady Macbeth is a particularly tricky character because everyone has their own preconceptions about her. In Dunsinane, she won’t necessarily meet expectation, she might not be the monster you thought she was. Really, she’s a masterly tactician. The real difference between the two, the great difference: the woman in David’s play is fighting for the country and not just personal ambition.
What do you think about Shakespeare’s female characters? Are they outdated? Does he write men and women or does he just write people?
Shakespeare was writing for young men playing women, so he couldn’t necessarily do what he might if he was writing for say – Emma Thompson. In comparison to now, the power balance between men and women has changed in some respects – perhaps not quite as much as we would have liked, but there are changes. I’ve enjoyed playing Shakespeare’s women, it’s like finding buried treasure all the time; there’s always something new to be discovered. I wish he’d done more female characters of a wider age range, for more diversity. Things are different now in theatre. Roles are not necessarily gender specific – parts can be reworked. Earlier this year I played a female Mephistopheles in Doctor Faustus. I’m fortunate to be working at a time where female actors don’t have to play parts written for women. Once you have the experience as an actor, you should be able to be able to take on different things like that.
David Greig paralleled these events with what was happening in Afghanistan and Iraq. Since then, we’ve witnessed the Arab Spring and more recent events in Syria. Do you think Dunsinane is as relevant to recent events, or is this a different struggle?
I think it is – new wars are still wars and people don’t change much. They still go to war on behalf of their countries, it’s still a traumatic experience for people there or at home. David has tapped into something so profound in human nature and our relationship with war. And that’s why this play won’t date.
Do you think theatre has an obligation to address politics of the modern day?
No I don’t think every play has to address politics of any times – theatre has to be a broad church. I’ve played these big theatres and every time I’m there, I think ‘these theatres will be gone soon.’ I’m fortunate to have been working for 30 years in this industry. What you really have to realise is it’s an expensive bad night out if you have a rubbish night. And over the years, because of TV and video and other new technologies, what the audience wants out of theatre has changed. People demand intimacy which is difficult in a big theatre. It’s a fascinating trick to try and master. What theatre has to achieve, or perhaps become, is more intimate and more spectacular at the same time.
Is theatre evolving along with the audiences?
I recently read the results of a theatre going survey. Surprisingly, it shows young people that are keen to go to the theatre. There’s this endless capacity of the young to surprise the old. Theatre is aware that it needs to make itself available and accessible – we need to attract young people into theatres. Theatre going is a habit and if we don’t have young people now, we won’t have older people in the future. We have to give the audience what they want and at the same time, what they’re not expecting. We have to surpass their hopes and expectations.
If you could choose another Shakesperean woman to explore further, to tell beyond her story, who would it be?
A lot I haven’t played – some I’ve done twice and made a right hash of them. The part I always wanted to play Coriolanus. I’m too old for that now and think we’ll be waiting a while before we see one of those. I’ve never played Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth – I’m probably too old for her now too, but not for Greig’s. I think the next lot of roles for me would be in the History plays. Cleopatra – I’m altogether too Northern to be her, but she’s an interesting woman. Shakespeare is full of suprises and I look forward to discovering more of them!
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