EIF 2014: James III - The True Mirror, Festival Theatre, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show info
National Theatre of Scotland and National Theatre of Great Britain
Rona Munro (writer), Laurie Sansom (director), Jon Bausor (set and costume design), Phillip Gladwell (lighting design), Nick Sagar (sound design) Will Gregory (composer)
Sofie Gabrol (Margaret of Denmark), Cameron Barnes (Sandy), Jamie Sives (James III), Blythe Duff (annabella, the King's Aunt) Andrew Fraser (Jamie, Ramsay), Sarah Higgens (Phemy, Daisy), Stephanie Hyam (Tam, Ross), Alasdair Macrae (Cochrane), David Mara (John), Beth Marshall (Annabella, Margaret)
Running time

Reviewing this last part of Rona Munro’s triptych of plays on Scotland’s first three Stewart kings feels somewhat akin to arriving late at a dinner party and only sampling the last course.

Theatre at its best, however, is never less than welcoming and each of Munro’s three plays is interdependent only in respect of the actors and setting.

It’s a magnificent cast, particularly on the distaff side (the term is used contextually if not advisedly) and Munro gives them a great deal to work on.

The Stewart dynasty was notable for its production of both good and bad kings, but James III, particularly in his latter days was an extreme example of the latter; debauched, avaricious, paranoid and vengeful: an all-round nasty piece of work.

It’s a tribute to both Munro’s script and Jamie Sives’ portrayal of the monarch that charm is on occasion allowed to break through.

However, it’s the women who take centre stage in Munro’s play, especially Sofie Gabrol as Margaret of Denmark, wife to James III.

Her table-turning scene, in which the King presents her with some new technology – a superior class of mirror, only to discover his disgust at his own ageing image is countered by her acceptance of the truth of hers shows both actors and writer at their best.

Margaret’s speech on accepting regency on behalf of her son, the future James IV, is not only a fine piece of (lower-case) nationalist sentiment, but offers an echo of the several other foreign-born queens (Margaret Tudor, wife of James IV for one) who found themselves governing a country they had come to love.

It’s perhaps a pity Munro’s script could not end there, as the ensuing RSC combat shenanigans add nothing but further confusion to the debacle of Sauchieburn during which James III met his end. Nor does the strapping of Andrews Fraser as Jamie (later James IV) into what looks dubiously like bondage gear add anything to that King’s penance for any part he may have had in his father’s murder.

Proudly but never loudly both feminist and Scottish in sympathy, this play and, it would appear, its two companion pieces, testify to the growing strength and capacity of theatre in Scotland and to the value of cross-border collaborations.

Runs 14, 15 and 22 August, 7.30pm