Siobhan Redmond talks Macbeth ‘sequel’ Dunsinane

Siobhan Redmond. Pic: Comp
Siobhan Redmond. Pic: Comp
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SIOBHAN Redmond is back in her adopted home, Edinburgh. It’s three years since the 54-year-old first played Gruach (Lady Macbeth) in Dunsinane, David Greig’s ‘sequel’ to Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

The play premiered at the RSC in 2010. A year later, Redmond returned to the role when the piece received its Scottish premiere at the Royal Lyceum.

This week, as she dons the mantle of Royal Consort for a third time at the King’s, she reveals she’d be far happier if Dunsinane wasn’t billed as a sequel .

“We suffer from people saying it’s the sequel to Macbeth,” she offers, “because if you say that, people anticipate it’s going to be written in Shakespearian-style language, only not by a genius like Shakespeare.

“It’s actually written in the kind of language we are speaking now, many of the words David uses would not have been around or understood in Shakespeare’s time.

“So it’s accessible, modern English, with lots of jokes in it, which people also don’t anticipate when you say it is a sequel to Macbeth.”

Redmond herself describes the piece as an “imagining of what might have happened at the end of Macbeth.”

Set in the titular garrison town, historically believed to be the site of a battle where Malcolm defeated Macbeth in 1054, the English occupying army is ready to commence battle.

Macbeth is dead and the English have swept through the landscape, killed the tyrant and taken the seat of power.

Attempting to restore peace and put in place a new ruler Siward (Jonny Phillips also reprises his role), the commanding officer is beset by a brutal guerrilla uprising and simmering discontent among his own inexperienced troops.

Struggling to grasp the alien customs and politics of this harsh country, he finds himself drawn towards the tyrant’s powerful widow in search of someone to share his burden of responsibility.

Ever more isolated from his men and Scottish allies alike, his efforts to restore order appear futile as the situation spirals out of control.

“You don’t need any prior knowledge of Macbeth to understand what is going on,” reiterates Redmond. “Everyone has heard of Lady Macbeth, although she is not called that in our play - she is called by her own name, Gruach. Indeed, Macbeth is never mentioned by name either, which was David’s one concession to theatrical superstition - lots of actors feel it brings bad luck to say that name, so he is only referred to as the tyrant.”

Not that Redmond is superstitious, although she is cautious about saying ‘Macbeth’ in the dressing room for a very different reason.

“I’d never say Macbeth unless I knew how the people I’m in the dressing room with feel about it - this company is quite chilled, none of us, as far as I am aware, are particularly concerned about it.

“If anybody was, we’d soon know as there is a whole rigmarole you have to go through if you say Macbeth and offend somebody’s sensibilities.”

That rigmarole, or cleansing ritual, includes leaving the building, turning three times, spitting over the left shoulder, swearing, or reciting a line from another of Shakespeare’s plays.

“So, it’s worth finding out how people feel beforehand because, to be honest, that’s more trouble that it’s worth,” the actress laughs.

Returning to the role for a third season, Redmond acknowledges is unusual for her.

“There are very few modern plays I would have returned to twice. This is the exception that proves the rule because every time you do it, you discover more in it. It’s like a rock pool, you look in and think you are seeing all there is to see, but the harder you look, the more you see. “And Gruach is a rare creature, she is one of those women who only speaks when she has something to say. People like that are rare in men as well, and I’m certainly not one of them. Everything she says is true, but it may not be the whole truth, so I am enjoying discovering how many ways it isn’t quite the whole truth.”

Redmond can’t wait to share that sense of discovery with the Capital again. “When we first did Dunsinane, we did it in a really tiny theatre. The next time was at the Lyceum, a middle-sized house, and now we’re playing a great big venue.

“I’m thrilled to be bringing it to the King’s and hope the people of Edinburgh are happy to come out and see it in its biggest manifestation so far.”

So does Redmond see Gruach becoming her signature role? The actress, who famously starred alongside Alan Cumming and Forbes Masson in the hilarious BBC sitcom The High Life, laughs out loud as she quips, “Well I don’t know - for some people I will always be Shona Spurtle and I can’t really complain about that.”

Dunsinane, King’s Theatre, leven Street, tonight-Saturday, 7.30pm (matinees 2.30pm), £14-£29.50, 0131-529 6000