The James Plays to Be Presented by National Theatres of Great Britain and Scotland and Edinburgh International Festival

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20 Jan 2014

The James Plays, a trilogy of plays by Rona Munro about three generations of Stewart Kings (James I, James II and James III) who ruled Scotland in the tumultuous fifteenth century, will be presented in a co-production between the National Theatre of Scotland, the Edinburgh International Festival (where they will premiere at Edinburgh's Festival Theatre in August) and the National Theatre of Great Britain (where they will transfer to run in the Olivier Theatre in September and October).

Directed by Laurie Sansom, who is artistic director of the National Theatre of Scotland, the ensemble cast of 20 actors includes Cameron Barnes, Daniel Cahill, Blythe Duff, Sofie Gråbøl, Sarah Higgins, James McArdle, Rona Morison, Mark Rowley and Fiona Wood.

The creative team comprises Jon Bausor (design), Philip Gladwell (lighting), Christopher Shutt (sound), Neil Bettles (movement), Mervyn Millar (puppet design) and Amanda Gaughan (associate director).

According to press materials, each play stands alone as a unique vision of a country tussling with its past and future, with its own distinct theatrical atmosphere. Viewed together they create a complex and compelling narrative on Scottish culture and nationhood. To create the play, some events and characters have been invented; others have been altered or simplified to clarify the narrative but, as far as possible, historical record has been used.

James I: The Key Will Keep the Lock features James McArdle in the title role. James I of Scotland was captured when he was only 13 and became King of Scots in an English prison. Eighteen years later he's finally delivered back home with a ransom on his head and a new English bride Isabella (Blythe Duff). He's returning to a poor nation, the royal coffers are empty and his nobles are a pack of wolves ready to tear him apart at the first sign of weakness. But James has his own ideas about how to be a king and, after 18 years, he finally has the chance to realize them. James is determined to bring the rule of law to a land driven by warring families, but that struggle will force him to make terrible choices if he is to save himself, his Queen and the crown.



In James II: Day of the Innocents, innocent games merge with murderous intent in a violent royal playground of shifting realities and paranoia. An eight-year-old boy is crowned King of Scots. Soon James II is the prize in a vicious game between the country’s most powerful families, for whoever has the person of the boy king, controls the state. Seen through a child's eyes, the Scottish court is a world of monsters with sharp teeth and long knives.

Growing up alone, abandoned by his mother and separated from his sisters, James II is little better than a puppet. There is only one relationship he can trust, his growing friendship with another lonely boy, William, the future Earl of Douglas. The two boys cling together as they try to survive the murder and mayhem that surrounds them. But the independence and power of young adulthood brings James into an even more threatening world. He has to fight the feuding nobles who still want to control him, he has to make brutal choices about the people he loves best, he has to struggle to keep his tenuous grip on the security of the crown and on his sanity, while the nightmares and demons of his childhood rise up again with new and murderous intent.

James III: The True Mirror looks at the women of the royal court, both lowly and high born, who prove to be its beating heart. Queen Margaret, married to James III, is played by Sofie Gråbøl, a Danish actor best known to audiences as Sarah Lund in the TV series "The Killing," who has also appeared onstage frequently with the National Theatre of Denmark.

James III is a man who's irresistible, charismatic, a man of fashion and culture. A man with big dreams, but no budget to realize any of them. Obsessed with grandiose schemes that his nation can ill-afford and his restless nobles will no longer tolerate, James is loved and loathed in dangerously unstable proportions. But Scotland's future will be decided by the woman who loves him best of all, his resourceful and resilient wife, Queen Margaret of Denmark.

In a press statement, Laurie Sansom commented, "When I first read Rona Munro’s trilogy of plays about James I, II and III of Scotland, I realised that not only were they a rare gift to an incoming Artistic Director, they were also something extraordinary to offer to audiences during a year when Scotland’s history and future are under the spotlight. The three plays are daring, passionate and offer a tumultuous ride through Scottish 15th century history. I look forward to bringing Rona's vividly evoked backstage dramas of Scotland's medieval royalty to a contemporary audience in a remarkable year for Scotland and friends."

Rona Munro, whose previous plays include Donny's Brain, The Astronaut's Chair, Little Eagles, The Last Witch, Long Time Dead, Iron and Mary Barton, commented, "I wrote these plays because I adore medieval history. We do not have many accessible, popular culture versions of our medieval history in Scotland and most people have very little knowledge of these events. I want people to experience them as I imagine them, not as something remote happening to people in odd costumes talking in inaccessible 'history speak' but as visceral, epic stories of people who thought and felt as we do. These loves, deaths, friendships and betrayals inform our present. My greatest ambition is that audiences will come out with at least some of the same fevered enthusiasm for our history that I have, and with these stories lodged in their heads."

Tickets will be on sale to the public for the Edinburgh International Festival from March 29 (with Friends and Patrons booking beforehand from March 19). For details and to book, visit www.eif.co.uk.

Booking dates for the National Theatre of Great Britain are still to be announced. Visit www.nationaltheatre.org.uk for more details.