James I: The Key Will Keep The Lock (4 stars)

This article is from 2014

*4James I: The Key Shall Keep The Lock

Manuel Harlan

The opening chapter of Rona Munro's Edinburgh International Festival trilogy has pace and energy

Henry V makes a cameo appearance in the opening scene of Rona Munro’s trilogy of history plays, a canny nod to Shakespeare’s iconic historical drama. These plays move confidently out of the shadow of the great Shakespearean history cycles, capitalising on strengths of contemporary theatre such as pace, energy and feisty vernacular language.

James I (James McArdle) arrives back in Scotland to claim his crown after 18 years in an English prison, with an English queen’s ransom on his head. He finds a threadbare throne, insubordinate subjects and a court so full of treacherous nobles it makes Games of Thrones look tame. Though he rallies them behind the idea of Scotland with an inspiring speech, to secure his position, he must challenge the thuggish Stewart clan with a ruthlessness of his own.

Munro adeptly covers chunks of complex history very quickly, homing in on a handful of key moments, and Laurie Sansom’s confident production can shift almost instantly from large-scale choreographed fight scenes to moments of intimacy and poetry. Jon Bausor’s set, allowing for seating in the round, sets out the ambition of the trilogy, and there are great performances from the ensemble, including Blythe Duff as the fearless Stewart matriach and Peter Forbes as the scheming Balvenie.

James I, until 20 Aug (not 13–15, 18). All performances at Festival Theatre, 473 2000, times vary, £15–£35.

James I: The Key Will Keep The Lock

  • 4 stars

Part of a cycle of history plays by Rona Munro. This first play, based around the first James of the Stewart Kings, portrays the struggles and choices he makes to try and save himself, his Queen and his crown.