Jamie Sives (Game of Thrones) and Sofie Gråbøl (The Killing).
King James III and Queen Margaret of Denmark.
Photo Credit: National Theatre.
Click here to see trailer.
Theatre in the round
James III is one of a trio of plays by Rona Munro charting the history of the first 3 James kings of Scotland. It was originally performed at Edinburgh International Festival in the round and they've copied this format for the performance in the Olivier Theatre. This meant I got to go back stage. It was so magical to see the engine rooms of the National Theatre, the backstage props and the perspective of performers looking out on an audience from the stage.
The play itself is a contemporary rendering of the history of James III of Scotland by Rona Munro. Both acts commence with a ceilidh band playing 'Born this way' and other modern classics which subtly allude to the plot. The characters wear modern dress with the odd nod to the fifteenth century (a la Robin Hood circa 2006).
James' court is portrayed rather like that of King Henry VIII's in The Other Boleyn Girl, pretty poor girls, poor economic decisions and banishment of the privy council. I particularly enjoyed the moment where James III sacrifices the funds for a pilgrimage to Avignon to instead employ a choir to follow him round at all times to make life more 'beautiful'.
This play is all about the girls; the mistresses, the mothers and the formidable Danish queen, Margaret, who might be a bit past her best but has one hell of a head on her shoulders. Beyond the privy council, the nobles, Lord John and sibling rivalries the real power is held by the girls. There was a particularly strong performance from Sofie Gråbøl showing depth of character and progression.
Poignancy of timing
I watched this play one week after Scotland's referendum. There are plenty of references to the relationship between England and Scotland as James III constantly suffered the threat of English invasion and coercion. Munro illustrates the links between the historical political circumstance and that of today very well, so little has changed in 500 years. A contemporary play, James III gave me an insight into how Shakespeare's history plays must have been received by the audience of the day; the parallels to their modern day circumstances must have been clear.
The show was a sensation, taught me loads of Scottish history and provided a unique backstage tour as part of the bargain. I'm really looking forward to seeing the first of the trio, James I, in a few weeks time.
King James is played by Game of Thrones star, Jamie Sives, and Margaret of Denmark by Sofie Gråbøl from The Killing. James III features full nudity and is not appropriate for those under 14 years old. The three James plays run daily in rotation, you can still get tickets for £15 until 29th October.