James III: The True Mirror
The king goes bling in the third of Rona Munro’s plays at the Edinburgh International Festival
This article is from 2014.
The king gets some bling in the third of Rona Munro’s historical trio of plays: the huge dagger digging into the stage at the Festival Theatre has shining jewels embedded in the handle, and James (Jamie Sives) is keen to pimp up his reign. He wants a choir to follow him around to perform a live soundtrack to his royal pursuits. Such affectation does not go unnoticed; his ageing wife Margaret (Sofie Gråbøl) is less than impressed that his romantic notions don’t include her, and while the fires are going out in the bedroom, there’s plenty of bystanders keen to play a role in the impending power-play.
Laurie Sansom’s handsome production opens with dancers performing to a variety of reworked faux-folk tunes including Lady Gaga’s ‘Born This Way’ and Lorde’s ‘Royals’. Such anachronistic cheekiness is a central part of the appeal of Munro’s script, with James recast as a decadent rock’n’roll debauchee, and Margaret as the cast-aside plaything who ends up bitterly taking charge of his fading career. Sives makes the most of the pomp, taking delight in the king’s unpredictable behavior, but Gråbøl is more than a match, demonstrating a steely grip on her character’s political manipulations.
No turgid toil through the history books, James III is splendid entertainment, mounted on an ingenious set by Jon Bausor which places a section of the audience on-stage, providing a striking visual way to represent of the public and private lives of the royals. At times, the modernity of the dialogue grates, and Margaret’s final put-down to the Scots that they have ‘fuck all but attitude’ feels like a cheap shot. That said, Munro can be forgiven such slips; James III is a powerful play of considerable merit.
James III, until 22 Aug (not 18 & 19, 21). All performances at Festival Theatre, 473 2000, times vary, £15–£35.