Alongside my long weekend at the Expo and a very busy day job I slotted in all three of The James Plays in October. Offerings by National Theatre Scotland and the Edinburgh International Festival at the National Theatre and written by Rona Munro.
James I: The Key Will Keep the Lock
James II: Day of the Innocents
James III: The True Mirror
All three plays are unique imaginings of a world clouded by mystery, violence and fluid allegiances.
In true fashion I ended up seeing the plays completely out of order. Day of the Innocents was first up, followed by The True Mirror and finally The Key Will Keep the Lock, I am never one for convention but at least NTs description was accurate – you can watch each of these as a stand alone play, without the necessary influence of the others.
However on that note, yes they can stand alone, but of the three James I The Key Will Keep the Lock was the most disappointing to watch, and it just happened to be the last one I saw. I got to the interval and still hoping that things were going to happen I persevered, but it was flat and the action wasn’t going anywhere. If I’d seen them in order I suspect I’d be singing from a very different hymn sheet… As it was, it felt a little disjointed and having watched the others already I expected just that little bit more from the first installment. The Key Will Keep the Lock is romantic and poetic in its medieval setting. Heavy with politics and history, it is definitely the one that sets the world of Stewart’s and of Scotland on its foundations that the others can build on.
Day of the Innocents is dark, black and full of twists and turns. No matter the trials, beatings and arguments Douglas really is his father’s son – fiercely independent of everyone, including the King – he is King in all but name in his own lands. Yet without him, James II would never have been the kind of King he needed to be.
There is something about Scottish nationalism that few outside Scotland really grasp, they can stereotype it, paint marvelous historical pictures but never quite grasp what ‘Scottish’ and ‘Scotland’ really mean. Munro gives the audience the opportunity to grasp the power and emotion that is really meant in those two words when said by a Scot. The concept that as monarch, James is Scotland, and Scotland is James (James I). I recognise that incredible sense of loyalty and individualism but even so, there is a uniqueness to each brand of Celtic lineage that is just out of reach for others.
“What are you afraid of?” the final speech, made by Queen Margaret, can only be a direct question to Scotland and the Scottish referendum, though by the time this National Theatre run has ended, the referendum and it’s ‘no vote’ is long over. Yet these plays cannot be labelled as just comments on the Scottish referendum; they are incredible feats of theatre and stories in their own right and I am definitely glad I saw them all.