The James Plays

This trilogy presented by the Scottish National Theatre at Luminato was particularly interesting to see immediately after seeing Breath of Kings.   The three plays, James I, James II and James III, were written by Rona Munro to bring to life a relatively unknow period of Scottish history. The period of history covered (1406-1488) is roughly contemporaneous with the period covered by Breath of Kings. But unlike Breath of Kings, where we are very familiar with the history and the plays, the James plays had the unusual advantage of being unfamiliar. This allowed the suspense to remain throughout, as we had no idea of how things would work out.

The staging was interesting. The use of the Hearn Generating Plant, which is huge, dank and decrepit  had no trouble being a Scottsh castle. The theatre, built for this play, was a modified theatre in the round, with a small group of audience members sitting above and behind the stage. But that same area became part fo the stage, with many entrances and exits and orations taking place there.

A very experienced cast covered many parts each, moving from lead roles to spear carriers with aplomb.

I am glad we saw the plays, as they had such good reviews from around the world. As this was the only North American stop on the tour, it was a case of now or never. But once again, we realize what a fabulous gem we have here in Stratford, with actors and directors creating works that are the equal of anything anywhere.


About cathyriggall

Theatre junkie, who thinks live theatre is the ultimate form of living on the edge. You never know what will happen when an actor steps on the stage.
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One Response to The James Plays

  1. keithhpotter says:

    I am not a fan of the Hearn – particularly when it rains, as it leaks. Anyone thinking of making this Toronto’s Tate Modern should get a realistic quote on cost first, we could buy a lot of LRT mileage for that money!

    However, the stage setup for the James Plays was very effective. Staging was simple, other than the gigantic sword which bled, burned or reflected light, depending on the play.

    The cast was great with definite Scottish accents (other than Malin Crepin, as Margaret), but were easily understandable. Other than Crepin, John Stahl as Murdac and Livingston, Blyth Duff as Isabella and Annabella and Mathew Pigeon as Henry V and James III stand out – but that probably reflects their roles; nobody in the cast seemed weak.

    Rona Munro, the playwright, followed the honourable tradition of Shakespeare and changed history when it conflicted with her dramatic needs.

    In the first play, The Key Will Keep The Lock, James I is transformed from the respected member of the English Court who fought beside Henry in France into a child man who has spent most of his life locked up. It gives a simpler story, but the play is nevertheless very effective.

    Day of the Innocents, the second play, was, for me, the weakest. It focused on James II and William Douglas as children – requiring two men to act as children for most of the play – and then quickly transforms both of them to murderous adults. I know they are Scots, but still. I think James II could have had a more interesting play; a reign that includes the Black Dinner (GOT anyone?) and the murder of William Douglas (stabbed 26 times, thrown out the window, brained with an axe) a civil war and the King’s death by being blown up by his own cannon, surely had more potential than two kids playing and squabbling?

    The final play, The True Mirror, was probably the strongest and, although nominally about James III, was dominated by Crepin’s Margaret, James’ Queen from Denmark, and her transformation into the Scottish queen the country could support (The True Mirror of the title?), although I am not sure there is any historical evidence for this, James IV seemed to take control after his father’s death.

    So, interesting plays, particularly the first and third, although Shakespeare need not feel threatened.

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