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March 28, 2012 | by  | in Arts Theatre |
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Review – Dunsinane

  • By David Greig
  • Directed by Rachel Henry
  • Cast: Philip Anstis, Taylor Barrett, Felix Becroft, Susan Berry, Jack Buchanan, Reuben Butler, Keagan Fransch, Greta Gregory, Taylor Hall, Frith Horan, Pereri King, Tom Knowles, Aaron McGregor, Timote Mapuhola, Greer Phillips, Vaimoana Sinafoa, Brynley Stent, Lucy Suttor, & Zoe Towers
  • Te Whaea: National Dance and Drama Centre, 23 March, 7pm

Although I do not worship at the foot of Saint Shakespeare, I am a little nervous of playwrights who attempt to rewrite or, worse yet, write a sequel to a Shakespearean play. Yet, I am not sure why this is because they, generally, actually cast the original in a new light whilst offering a more contemporary perspective. And Dunsinane is no different. Billed as the “sequel to Macbeth,” the play was first performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2010 and examines experiences that are terribly familiar with namely the need to occupy a country long after “liberating” it from the clutches of the tyrannous. Or, as two soldiers put it:

“I thought we won?”

“We still have to fight!”

The English army, led by Siward, need to somehow restore peace after they finally vanquished the “tyrant” who took the throne in a reign of blood. The advertising for the production warned us not to expect anything polished since this is a workshop production. But there was much more polish present than I had anticipated.

Brynley Stents’ portrayal of Gruach the Queen was perhaps the most entrancing of the evening. Stent made it blatantly obvious that the Queen – although rulership descends through her line – cannot wield power herself. The only power she has at her disposal is that of her body and voice. Stent’s Gruach was at once powerful and regal, but with a subtle softness that highlighted how much she was at the mercy of the liberating force and the patriarchal systems of her land. Similarly Lucy Suttor’s Mairead was all business and managed the transfer of power from the old regime to the new with constant words in Siward’s ear and suggestive sparkles in her eyes. Indeed, it seems as if this production was more suited to the female parts – all of which were carried off with the appropriate aplomb.

The male roles, however, were much more problematic. The play began with the soldiers preparing for war but there was no sense that anything was actually at stake; the actors dialogue – that war is coming and there is no guarantee who will live or die – clashed horribly with their body language – it is just another day of young boys in charge of large weapons that they are fundamentally incapable of wielding. Further, during the battle scene, the soldiers gave the sense that they were only playing at being soldiers rather than genuinely acting to preserve their lives. Some of the soldiers had the annoying tendency of resorting to shouting to portray heightened emotions; shouting should not be a substitute for actually acting emotions but should add emotion to the voice after the body.

During the workshop process, the actors were given certain rules of action that dictated how, where, and when they could move on stage. Some of these rules were kept in particularly formally choreographed scenes where it worked well for some. When the witches were delivering their prophecies, they physically manipulated the actors literally turning them into puppets. The highly formalilsed movements worked very well in the politically-charged court scene where the future of Scotland was being debated. Certain scenes, in particular the battle one, could have been much improved by this more ritual movement rather than relying on less concrete, more imprecise suggestions of action.

The cast of Dunsinane are all young practitioners and, whilst the performance was patchy, it was their laboratory to explore the processes of acting. Even though these students are only in their second-year at Toi Whakaari, they presented a production with the dedication, joy, and excellence that does them credit.

Dunsinane runs from 21 to 24 March, 7pm. Tickets: $15/$10.

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