…AND IT GROWS DARKER
James I is dead. His small son, defaced by a birthmark, puny and afraid, in surreal nightmare sequences constantly relives the bloodshed and concealment of the days when he was seized and bargained for between his mother , the cool contemptuous regent Livingston (Gordon Kennedy again) ) and Crichton. Sometimes he is literally a puppet, a naked skinny peg-creature thrown in and out of chests while the adult James (Andrew Rothney) stands by watching his own helplessness. His childhood and youthful friend is Will Douglas (Mark Rowley) , battered and beaten son of the thuggish Earl (Peter Forbes). Indeed the first half of this second play feels more heavy-going than before: everyone seems either a weakling or a bully, and the bloodied creatures of James’ nightmares momentarily confusing. I nearly concurred with a general view expressed after its Edinburgh performance that this play was the weakest, as well as the darkest; the one to miss.
Not so. Beneath the great sword, the second half flares into something intense: James grows up, begins defying Livingston’s contempt (“Your lazy wee Majesty – sign here”). It becomes spectacular – not least because they seem by now to have invented both the bagpipes and football, with a leather sphere punted round and out into the stalls in a ferocious, biting, wrestling, snarling football match of Stuarts vs Douglases (top choreography). The unravelling of the friendship between James and the damaged, reckless Will becomes one burning focus: another – for Munro never forgets the women – is the gradual emergence of a steely nature in his tiny yellow-haired foreign wife Mary (Hyam again, unrecognizable, and a remarkable presence both comic and dramatic).
More Douglas-on-Douglas violence ends in Will’s dangerous emergence as something new, No spoilers: but again Munro surprises at the most tense moments with genuine, laugh-out-loud comic moments. I particularly treasured Will’s sullen summing-up of what Scotland offers its nobles with “I’m supposed to be a rich man because I’ve got another hundred wet sheep”