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The James Plays - National Theatre (Olivier)

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

THE JAMES PlaysJames I: The Key Will Keep The Lock, James II: Day of the Innocents and James III: The True Mirror – are a new cycle of history plays by award-winning playwright Rona Munro and directed by Laurie Sansom, Artistic Director of the National Theatre of Scotland.

The plays will be presented in an unprecedented co-production by the National Theatre of Scotland, Edinburgh International Festival and the National Theatre of Great Britain, during the Edinburgh International Festival in August 2014 and at the National Theatre in London from September 25 (previews from September 10) to October 29, 2014.

This vividly-imagined trilogy brings to life three generations of Stewart Kings who ruled Scotland in the tumultuous fifteenth century.

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.

The James Plays promise to be historical drama for a contemporary audience, served up with a refreshing modern directness. 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.

An ensemble of 20 actors, including Cameron Barnes, Daniel Cahill, Blythe Duff, Sofie Gråbøl, Sarah Higgins, James McArdle, Rona Morison, Mark Rowley and Fiona Wood, will take the audience through a rarely-explored period of history with playful wit and boisterous theatricality.

The Kings

James I (1394 to 1437), married to Joan Beaufort.
James II (1430 to 1460), married to Mary of Gueldres.
James III (1452 to 1488), married to Margaret of Denmark.

The Plays

James I: The Key Will Keep The Lock

Bold and irreverent storytelling explores the complex character of this colourful Stewart king – a poet, a lover, a law-maker but also the product of a harsh political system.

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. 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 realise them. James is determined to bring the rule of law to a land riven by warring families, but that struggle will force him to make terrible choices if he is to save himself, his Queen and the crown.

James II: Day of the Innocents

In the second of Rona Munro’s dynastical trilogy, 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

Like James III himself, the final instalment of Rona Munro’s extraordinary trilogy is colourful, brash and unpredictable. It turns its eye on 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, most known to audiences as Sarah Lund in the Danish TV series, The Killing.

James III of Scotland. A man who’s irresistible, charismatic, a man of fashion and culture. A man with big dreams …and no budget to realise 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.

As dreams battle brutal realities and the nation thunders dangerously close to regicide and civil war, her true love and clear vision offer the only protection that can save a fragile monarchy and rescue a struggling people. But the cost for Margaret herself may be too high.

Sofie Gråbøl is an award-winning Danish actor with extensive film and TV credits. She gained international fame for her role as Detective Inspector Sarah Lund in three series of The Killing (BBC 4). She is also an experienced stage actor who has appeared on stage many times with the National Theatre of Denmark, including most recently in a stage version of Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny & Alexander.

The plays will be designed by Jon Bausor, with lighting by Philip Gladwell and sound by Christopher Shutt. Movement Director is Neil Bettles, Puppet Director is Mervyn Millar and Associate Director is Amanda Gaughan.

Tickets will be on sale to the public for the Edinburgh International Festival on March 29 and on March 19 for friends and patrons of the Festival. Booking dates for the National Theatre of Great Britain are to be announced.