BBC Radio 3, 7 April 2013
Originally written for the Royal
Shakespeare Company, David Greig's sequel to Macbeth looked at the efforts of the English colonizer Siward (Jonny
Phillips) to impose order on the Scottish kingdoms, after having defeated Macbeth. The task proves difficult,
if not impossible, as he had to cope with guerrilla uprisings and discontent amongst his own troops. Eventually he finds himself
drawn towards Queen Gruach (Siobhan Redmond); even if she is the enemy, she offers the kind of sympathy that seems markedly
absent in the other people Siward encounters.
Although ostensibly set in the ancient past, Dunsinane struck an uncomfortably resonant note in the
present. Roxana Silbert's production looked at the consequences of colonialism from all angles: while the English invaders
looked to impose 'peace' on the Scottish nation, they could not acknowledge cultural differences. In
a land dominated by tribal rivalries, it was perhaps unwise to look for unifying solutions. Even in the
day-to-day exchanges of communication, the English tried to impose their will on the Scots without acknowledging that words,
phrases and gestures might have different meanings in different territories. Hence they found themselves unable
to fulfil their stated task.
The action repeatedly switched from the personal to the political arena, and vice versa. Siward's
exchanges with Gruach were contrasted with the ordinary soldiers' responses to living in a strange country. Inevitably
the soldiers did not like the experience: Scotland was a harsh and uncompromising territory, full of alien rituals and
people who behaved in strange ways. Unable to escape their fate, the soldiers could only communicate their reactions
through letters, while pretending to respect their leaders in public.
Eventually the experience of living in an alien land proved too much for leaders and
soldiers alike. At the end of the play, it seemed as if the truth of Shakespeare's King Lear had
been vindicated; in an environment dominated by conflict and misunderstanding "Humanity must perforce prey on itself/ Like
monsters of the deep." More worryingly, there seemed to be no solutions: the Scots would always resent the presence
of the English colonizer, while the English could not (and would not) leave the territory, for fear of losing face.
They continued their futile task of trying to impose "democracy."
Dunsinane communicated a powerful message about the consequences of colonization. It
would be great if the Allied forces - especially the United States Army - were forced to take heed of it as they formulate
future policies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps this might help to reduce the suffering on both sides - for colonizers
and colonized alike.