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Review: The James Plays – James III

Adelaide Festival

James III – The True Mirror begins with a lively, comic, contemporary song and dance that establishes a jovial atmosphere.

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The James Plays

The third installment in this National Theatres of Scotland and Great Britain trilogy combines historical drama and comedy with music and movement, and contains relevant observations about both politics in modern life and human relationships.

Actor Matthew Pidgeon presents James III as a controversial, manic character; as a king, he expresses little interest in management of the kingdom and his people’s welfare (especially when he decides he would like a full choir to follow him wherever he goes).

Malin Crepin, as his wife, Queen Margaret, is elegant in her beautiful embroidered gowns of velvet and silk, and is an excellent foil for her husband’s antics. She has more understanding than her husband about the manner in which a king should behave and how he should interact with his parliament.

James III has a roving eye and he sleeps with Cochrane (Andrew Rothney), a promising architect, Daisy (Fiona Wood), a laundress, and his servant – which adds to the enormous pressure on the royal marriage. James remains furious about having been shortchanged when he received the Orkney and Shetland Islands as part of Margaret’s dowry, and the two have vitriolic arguments. Their acrimonious separation is very similar to a modern divorce settlement.

James III makes political blunders, but as was made clear in James I and II, it is inevitable that any Scottish king is likely to upset someone in some clan at some stage.

Blythe Duff plays the king’s aunt, Annabella, as a maternal, understanding and knowledgeable household member; Duff’s comic timing is exceptional and she delivers some terrific one-liners.

Steven Miller is a convincing and genuine Sandy (Alexander), younger brother of James III, and Ali Craig portrays a level-headed John, Head of the Privy Council, who knows that the Queen is actually doing the paperwork that the king should be attending to. The parliament looks ready to dissolve and degenerate into clan warfare until the Queen steps in with a rational solution.

The James Plays trilogy is a triumph and this performance received a well-deserved standing ovation. The talented ensemble work slickly and energetically over three shows and the creative team has produced a powerful and compelling modern drama.

The trilogy depicts how three different kings attempted to govern in the 1400s. Writer Rona Munro’s text asks us to question our own parliaments and governing systems, and how power can change individuals; having had a taste of it, there is a great desire to remain in power, sometimes regardless of the cost.

The James Plays are stimulating from start to finish and they will have indelibly etched images and characters in the imaginations of every audience member.

James III – The True Mirror will be presented at the Festival Theatre again on Tuesday, March 1, as will the James II – Day of the Innocents. The season for James I has now ended.


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