5th January 2018
The Knight's Chambers - Peterborough Cathedral
Type of Production
Author: Rob Bristow
I had the pleasure of reviewing Peterborough Mask Theatre’s production of Macbeth in Central Park last summer. Dunsinane is David Greig’s sequel to Macbeth, which makes a fitting follow-up to their summer repertoire and launches Mask Theatre’s 2018 season and their 70th Anniversary. Staged in Peterborough Cathedrals’ Knight’s Chamber, the venue was once part of a medieval abbey which adds an impressive historic atmosphere from the outset.
Set in 11th Century Scotland, David Greig’s sequel introduces us to Siward, Earl of Northumberland, who is leading the English army to prop up up the weak King Malcolm’s new kingdom, in order to maintain him on the throne. Dunsinane contains contemporary references to the conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq exploring how an occupying power can have difficulty trying to establish peace in a country where they are not welcome.
Siward’s aim to bring peace to a Scotland divided into warring clans is threatened by Lady Macbeth who torments the English army. Greig has given Lady Macbeth a name, Gruach, we learn that she has a son who is hiding in the forests, she considers him the rightful heir to the throne of Scotland.
Alex Tyler is solid as Siward, physically imposing in his modern combat uniform with a rich voice, Tyler’s Siward embodies his role of military command. He shares great chemistry and sexual tension onstage with Gruach played by Becky Owen-Fisher. Becky (who played an excellent Witch in Macbeth) is forthright and formidable with an air of unhinged arrogance, part-Queen, part-Witch, goading the English like an 11th Century Nicola Sturgeon. Becky should also be commended for her excellent Scottish accent which never faltered throughout.
The main action is seen through the eyes of a young soldier over the period of four seasons. Harvey Jones is exceptional as the young soldier from Kent, his narration paints a bleak picture of the forests and lochs in the boggy, cold and wet landscape which is alien to him. The ethereal Gaelic singing by Jessica Ward, Di Fox and Rebecca Jones added to the suitably chilling and bleak atmosphere. Harvey Jones’ intensity is captivating and the young actor never falters throughout his four monologues, demonstrating natural presence with excellent diction, projection and characterisation.
On the whole, the majority of the comedic scenes featuring various archers and soldiers seemed to lack pace and relevance to the plot, and one may question Greig’s need for gratuitous expletives, although I recognise these criticisms lie with the writing rather than Mask Theatre’s production. However there is some strong comic relief in the form of the money-grabbing, corrupt Lord Egham played by Jonni Hilton. Also, Phil Lewis, who played an exceptional Banquo in Macbeth, does a sterling job as both an Army General in the opening scene and as Lord Kintyre in Act II.
Exquisitely villainous with a hint of British camp comedy, Matthew Robertson owns the stage as Malcolm and injects energy, charm and charisma aplenty. Matthew’s performance was full of self-assurance and on a par with many professional actors. As with Becky Owen-Fisher, Matthew’s accent was flawless. Also worthy of note was Hannah Drury’s performance as the hen girl. Hannah did a fine job with a small role, her aggressive turn on the soldiers was most dramatic and her suicide played most convincingly.
Presumably the modern day camo-wear for the English army was an artistic choice to depict the similarities to the British forces in Iraq, however there was a mix of modern military costume for the English, traditional dress for the Scots, some traditional props and yet Macduff was dressed in fusion couture of army combat trousers and traditional shirt (I assume to represent a Scot working with the English army). There were some traditional props, however the sacks representing a dead cow and sacks for the body bags of the deceased were disappointingly small. Also I would have liked to have seen better executed stage combat, the ‘sword-fight’ which used wooden poles to represent the swords was hesitant, lacking flow in the choreography.
Director Catherine Myland makes best use of the limitations of the room by staging in the traverse. This allows the audience to feel almost at one with the action. The Knight’s Chamber precludes Mask from having a physical set, however I did feel the lighting could have been better used to depict the dank terrain the actors were describing. On the whole this was another very good production from Mask Theatre, and what it may lack in production values it makes up for in some excellent performances from some very talented actors. I look forward to seeing their production of The Importance of Being Earnest in the Spring.