The James Plays took the Edinburgh International Festival by storm this year and now the National Theatre and National Theatre of Scotland have brought them to London. The three plays are based on the reigns of James I, James II and James III in Scotland and can be enjoyed as a trilogy with an overarching narrative about a stormy period of Scottish history or as stand-alone plays.
The James Plays span a period of just less than 100 years and give us a glorious romp through the lives, plots, allegiances and feuds of the first 3 Stewart Kings who ruled Scotland in the fifteenth century. According to the playwright, Rona Munro, this is not a particularly popular or well-known period of Scottish history and Munro presents us with a great piece of storytelling and a mixture of fact and fiction in these three plays. She readily admits that whilst historic facts have been followed she has changed some of the details, timelines and events to maximise the drama in each play.
The first play James I: The Key Will Keep The Lock focuses on James I, who was captured at 13 and lived as an English prisoner for the next 18 years until we was released in the hope of putting an English ally on the Scottish throne and to face the enormous task of bringing the nation out of poverty. The second: James II: Day of The Innocents follows the story of James II a child king who was manipulated by his noble protectors for their own gain until he eventually rebelled and took control of his own destiny to rule Scotland alone. And finally James III: The True Mirror which looks at the different sides of this despised king, who history has characterised as artistic, peace-looking, morbidly suspicious, treacherous, pious, lecherous and lazy.
History is presented artfully in these plays and Munro instinctively leaves no opportunity for a dull moment to slip in to the storytelling and as a result there is a dramatic sense of urgency and earnestness in every scene.
The James Plays are currently running at the National Theatre in London until the end of October. For information, dates and on-line booking go to: www.nationaltheatre.org.uk
Notes and credits: Images are from the National Theatre London site via Google images.