Presented by Raw Material & Capital Theatres in association with the National Theatre of Scotland
Festival Theatre, Edinburgh – until 8th October then various venues around Scotland
Reviewed by Rachel Farrier
This production is the fourth in ‘The James Plays‘ history cycle by Rona Munro, which brings to life the Scottish medieval court from a fascinating and fresh perspective. Based upon individuals who appear in the histories written of James IV’s court, the central characters of Ellen and Anne are ‘moorish’ women who arrive in Scotland, having escaped the plague that has killed their families in Spain. Historically they were part of a larger group of entertainers who were part of the life of the court, and the events of the play are told from their perspective. As they jostle to find their place within the court, their fortunes rise and fall according to the whims of those around them. The play brilliantly and masterfully examines both the misogyny and racism that was at work in all levels of society in that time, whilst weaving plays within the play which allows the characters to brilliantly reflect on their own place in the story.
Much of the play has a wonderful playful energy, with sharp and incisive humour – Keith Fleming as the Makar William Dunbar exemplifies this and the thread of his humour sustains and enlivens many a scene. Danielle Jam and Laura Lovemore as Ellen and Anne are strong centres of the play, and their capricious friendship is movingly portrayed with both ferocity and gentleness.
Daniel Cahill is an exceptional King James IV – by turns the charismatic and swaggering leader, as well as the frustrated and reflective monarch who longs to travel but cannot.
Sarita Gaboney brilliantly portrays the 17 year old Queen Margaret who is expected to conform and behave in a way that she finds impossible for her years, a teenager-trapped-as-Queen.
I really enjoyed and appreciated the on-stage music provided by Gameli Tordzo, which brings an unobtrusive but authentic soundscape to the production.
I came away from the play feeling that I would need to see it several times in order to appreciate it fully, as there are so many fascinating stories and perspectives to examine. There were a number of school parties in attendance at the performance last night, and I found myself envying them for the opportunity they will have to fully appreciate this play as they study it in depth.