THE JAMES PLAYS: Olivier, SE1 QUICK OVERVIEW

Well, what a day that was. There is still in October one chance to see, in one day, all three of Rona Munro’s immense trilogy about the first three King Jameses of Scotland in the wild 15th century. I just did. But each play can stand alone, given a minimal introduction, so here before the detail are a few lines on which is which.

 

 

All three – directed by Laurie Sansom of the National Theatre of Scotland and designed by Jon Bausor – are staged in the round, the Olivier stage pierced by a great sword which will bleed and flame unexpectedly and never let you forget that the blade is everything in 15c politics. A tremendous ensemble cast of eighteen carries right through, with single stars in the first and third. The programme tells you enough to be getting on with, but Munro’s broadly true but dramatically fictionalised storytelling does the job.

 

 

The first – The Key will Keep the Lock – is a gracefully accessible tale of how the first James returns from being held hostage in England, marries his English Joan, replaces the Regent Murdac and tries to establish law, via a bit of murder and betrayal. It’s funny, wild, touching and spectacular.

 
The second – Day of the Innocents – is trickier, often surreal, as a child King is haunted by nightmare memory; some find it less rewarding. But after the interval the central relationship becomes seat-of-the-pants exciting, and I loved it.

 

 

The third – The True Mirror – is modern-dress, knowing, focused largely on the women: the least violent of the trilogy and immensely different in tone. Its resonances tickled Edinburgh audiences maybe more than it will in London, but the wit and vigour is intact. My least favourite.

 

 

Box office: 0207 452 3000 All run to 30 Oct

So here come the reviews: scroll on down…

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