Page last updated at 16:52 GMT, Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Writing Macbeth after Shakespeare

By Nigel Wrench
BBC Radio 4's PM culture reporter

"Imagine what happens after the end of Macbeth," says multi award-winning playwright David Greig.

Rehearsal scene. Credit: Simon Annan
The production runs until 6 March

Standing in a rehearsal room at the Hampstead Theatre in London, the writer explains how his most recent play, Dunsinane, picks up where Shakespeare left off.

"The tyrant is dead. There's an English army camped in the castle of Dunsinane ready to install Malcolm as king.

"Then they discover the Scots are not as easy with this proposition as they are led to believe."

In one scene, actress Siobhan Redmond (The Smoking Room) who plays the queen named Gruach, teases a young soldier who asks if it is true that Scots eat babies.

"Don't you eat baby meat in England?" she asks archly.

"I don't think so," says the soldier, "not in Kent anyway."

Gruach answers: "You should try it, it's delicious."

The Scottish playwright was commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), but Greig is not sure what Shakespeare himself would have made of his work.

"Well now, I don't know. I think it's a very cheeky thing I've done," he says.

'Tremendous responsibility'

The playwright adds: "But then to some degree for Scottish writers, it's always felt a little bit cheeky that unquestionably the greatest Scottish play was written by the great English playwright.

"So there is a slight sense of answering back a little bit. Playing with some of those concepts and characters, and claiming just a little bit of history from another point of view."

Director Roxana Silber says the play also offers parallels with contemporary Iraq and Afghanistan as there are "men with good intentions going in and trying to coerce a culture to follow its own rules without quite understanding that foreign culture".

She adds: "The fact that the soldiers are basically large numbers of young men and that what you're seeing is large numbers of young men die.

Siobhan Redmond. Credit: Simon Annan
Siobhan Redmond is best known for starring in The Smoking Room

"Whether it's worth the loss of those young men and the tremendous responsibility of the people who decide their fate."

It is because of this that Greig says he wants political leaders to see the production.

"I would very much like to invite the politicians involved in the decisions of Iraq and Afghanistan to come and see it, but not because I want them to take a scolding.

"I have tried very, very hard to try to imagine what it's like to take that kind of decision.

"So I would invite them to come, not on the basis of seeking to punish, but to see whether it contributes to an understanding of their position in those decisions."

The play was completed a while ago, but after reading the evidence of the former attorney-general Lord Goldsmith in the Iraq war, he noticed some similarities with a scene in Dunsinane.

"I worried that I should cut it because people would think that I had been listening very closely to [Sir John] Chilcot and then put it in as a satirical point."

However, the lines in question remain.

One character says: "There can be no peace in Scotland while the queen is in Dunsinane."

"That sounds unequivocal," says another.

To which the reply is: "It depends on the definition of 'queen', 'remain' and 'Dunsinane'."

Dunsinane is the Hampstead Theatre in London from 10 February to 6 March.

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