Shakespeare’s Macbeth was the ultimate doomed weaver—relentlessly twisting reality’s threads until he found himself snug in a shroud. His final undoing came when the English, disguised as a forest, overtook his castle at Dunsinane, toppling the corrupt king and mounting his head on a stick.
Scottish playwright David Greig’s 2010 drama picks up in the final moments of that battle. Disgusted at their own brutality, the English “liberators” spend the better part of the play hunting for absolution and an elusive peace. Macbeth may be dead, but a new soldier of denial steps forth to replace him—the English commander Siward (Darrell D’Silva), who’s lost his son and is well on the way to losing himself.
Greig’s fluid text is wondrous, but the silence in this coproduction from the National Theatre of Scotland and the Royal Shakespeare Company—which comes to Chicago on the second stop on a tour that marks the play’s U.S. premiere—is at times even more so. Director Roxana Silbert delivers on pause after delicious pause, and both Ewan Donald (Malcolm) and Siobhan Redmond (Gruach, Queen of Scotland) embrace that stillness with open arms. In Greig’s reimagining, Lady Macbeth hasn’t died; rather she’s alive and vibrating with power. Redmond, who’s played the role since the show’s 2010 premiere, delivers an effectively subtle and otherworldly Gruach—an exploiter we hate to love but do anyway.
Like Oscar Wilde, Greig uses slyness and wit as cover for matters both philosophical and moral. As interim king, Malcolm (the brilliant Donald) chides Siward for seeking easy answers, which may be convenient but can also be dangerously reductive. Manipulative as she is, at least Gruach isn’t in denial about her surroundings—unlike Siward, who plunges further and further into his own misplaced grief.
It’s a play with blood and humor to spare. And director Silbert submerges us in both.