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National Theatre stages Munro’s James Plays

Published 20 January 2014

A trilogy of plays about James I, II and III of Scotland will be staged at the National Theatre later this year in a co-production with the National Theatre of Scotland and Edinburgh International Festival.

The three plays by award-winning Scottish playwright Rona Munro, which will be directed by the National Theatre of Scotland’s Artistic Director Laurie Sansom, will play in the Olivier Theatre, from September to October. They arrive at the National’s largest auditorium following their premiere at the Edinburgh International Festival.

Promising “historical drama for a contemporary audience”, the plays can each be viewed as standalone pieces exploring the unique vision of a country tussling with its past and its future or as a whole, offering a complex narrative on more than 50 years of Scottish culture.

The first, James I: The Key Will Keep The Lock, charts the story of the first King James of Scotland. He is followed from his capture at the age of 13, when he became monarch in the confines of an English prison, to his freedom 18 years later when he was determined to bring the rule of law to a land riven by warring families.

James II: Day Of The Innocents, the second in the series, is presented through a child’s eyes. It portrays the Scottish court as a world of monsters with sharp teeth and long knives as James II grows up alone after being abandoned by his mother.

The final work, James III: The True Mirror, turns its eye on the women of the court. It focuses on James III’s marriage to Queen Margaret of Denmark, whose true love and clear vision offer the only protection that can save a fragile monarchy and rescue a struggling people.

The James Plays will be performed by an ensemble cast that includes Cameron Barnes, Daniel Cahill, Blythe Duff, Sofie Gråbøl, Sarah Higgins, James McArdle, Rona Morison, Mark Rowley and Fiona Wood, all of whom will be charged with bringing the historical dramas to life with playful wit and theatricality.

Talking about the effect she wants her plays to have on the audience, Susan Smith Blackburn Prize-winning playwright  Munro said: “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.”

The National Theatre’s Director Nicholas Hytner spoke about his excitement at bringing these “epic stories” to London, saying: “I couldn’t be happier that we’re collaborating for the first time with the National Theatre of Scotland on three plays which explore Scottish history and Scottish identity, and stand comparison with the greatest historical dramas in the way they use ancient dynastic struggles to illuminate a vast array of current concerns.”


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