Liam Rudden: Majestic event theatre

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THE Kings are dead. Long live the Kings.

In Rona Munro’s trilogy of history plays at the Festival Theatre last Saturday, James I, II, and III, did indeed live on, channelled by Steven Miller, Andrew Rothney and Matthew Pidgeon, respectively.

Now, ‘Event Theatre’ is a much over-used expression these days. Most of the time it turns out to be hype. An exaggeration. A ploy to part theatre-goers from their cash.

Not so, however, if it’s used to describe the National Theatre of Scotland’s The James Plays... when viewed in one sitting... from the on- stage seating banks that rise from Jon Bausor’s evocative set.

As I tweeted at the time: ‘National Theatre of Scotland’s The James Plays trilogy is event theatre at its finest.’

Munro’s epic started at noon with James I: The Key Will Keep The Lock, continued at 4pm with James II: Day of the Innocents, and concluded with James III: The True Mirror, at 8.15pm.

Three plays, three generations, three kings and three regal performances...

As James I, Steven Miller proved a likeable and captivating monarch.

As James II, Andrew Rothney, turned in a outstanding performance considering he’d sustained an injury ‘playing football’ midway through the second piece, finally collapsing onto the shoulders of his fellow actors during the curtain call.

His trip to hospital meant a delayed start to the final play, allowing David Mara to prepare to stand in, book in hand.

As James III, Matthew Pidgeon relished the madness of his king. Ironically, though, it was his portrayal of Henry V in James I that was the highlight of the three works.

Directed by Laurie Sansom, who expertly uses all the space available to him, watching The James Plays from the stage seating makes for a truly interactive experience.

Actors perform in, around, below and above you. Not only are they within touching distance, there is a feeling of being transported back in time with them as swords clash and the working drawbridge, which dominates centre-stage, rumbles into place, complete with clanking chains as it sends vibrations through the set.

The ensemble cast is impressive too. Watch for Taggart’s Blythe Duff, as the feral yet conniving Isabella Stewart and later as the maternal Annabella; an exceptional Sally Reid as Meg, the Queen’s warmly couthy maid; and the elegant Malin Crépin as Margaret, Queen of Scots.

There’s also an impressive stage debut from Andrew Still in a chilling but heart-wrenching performance as William Douglas and then as Ross, son of James III.

On Saturday, there’s another chance to see all three plays back to back - albeit with some cast changes due to Rothney’s injury.

Daniel Cahill will play James II, as the latest statement from the National Theatre of Scotland reveals:

‘Andrew Rothney, the actor playing James II and other ensemble parts in the National Theatre of Scotland’s James Plays trilogy, sustained a leg injury during a performance of James II - Day of The Innocents at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre on Saturday 6 February, during a trilogy day of performances.

‘Daniel Cahill will now take on the role of James II for all performances of James II this week at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre.

‘Other members of the ensemble cast, Andrew Fraser, Brian James and David Mara will take on the roles of Walter Stewart (James I), Earl of Douglas (James II) and Cochrane (James III) respectively.

‘The Company wishes Andrew a speedy recovery and looks forward to welcoming him back on stage in the near future.’

A sentiment no doubt shared by all who saw Rothney in the role.

In many ways, the changes only highlight the beauty of live drama, with different actors comes changed dynamics, and energy, making for a very different production.

I’m almost tempted to go back. A theatrical marathon maybe, but really the only way to see The James Plays, just make you’re sure on stage in the middle of the action. That’s when it really does become Event Theatre.