June 7, 2016, by Michael Timmins
The James Plays – Scotland’s answer to Game of Thrones?
The James Plays has been billed as Scotland’s answer to Game of Thrones by the Daily Record. Rona Munro’s trilogy of plays, brings three 15th century kings to the stage. All three died by violence: the first murdered, the second blown up by a cannon, and the third in the aftermath of a battle against forces led by his son; all three had wives determined to protect their husbands and their children against the forces ranged against them. Just like Shakespeare’s histories, these plays focus on particular episodes rather than full accounts of the reigns, and as with Shakespeare, we come away with clear impressions of the individual kings – the poet, James I; the man forced against his childhood friends, James II; and the vain and self-indulgent James III.
But if Game of Thrones is fantasy entertainment, history with added dragons, what is the purpose of the James Plays? How do they fit into our current culture, whether that be literary or dramatic? And why should plays about ancient Scottish history be performed in England? Such questions require us to consider the place of history and its retellings in our sense of identity, national, local, personal, and to reflect on what we should learn from the past.
Nottingham Theatre Royal performances
To accompany the performance of the trilogy at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal on 11-12 June, there will be a symposium in the Trent Building on University Park, bringing together theatre practitioners and literary critics to consider the James Plays and reflect on their significance ahead of performance. The event begins at 12 noon with lunch, and will conclude at 4.30pm.
The first panel, Theatre, Politics, Scotland, will consider the context of the plays’ first production during the Independence Referendum, as well as their broader inheritance from Scottish literature: the panelists will include Ian Brown (Kingston University), Brean Hammond (University of Nottingham), Joe Jackson (University of Nottingham), Victoria Price (Glasgow University) and Trish Reid (Kingston University).
The second panel, Performing History, Performing Scotland, will focus more on the practicalities of performance, questions of accent, questions of unfamiliar material and making the unlikeable compelling: Peter Forbes (The James Plays acting company), Sarah Grandage (University of Nottingham), David Longford (Nottingham Theatre Royal), Eleanor Rycroft (Bristol University) and Roxana Silbert (Artistic Director, Birmingham Repertory Theatre) make up this panel.
To complete the day, at 6 pm, there will be an opportunity to hear Rona Munro herself in conversation about the Plays at the Theatre Royal, and to find out why she considers the history play a vibrant, compelling and necessary form.
Both events are free and open to the general public. For more information, see https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/english/events/events/2015-2016/the-james-plays-debates.aspx where you will also find a booking form.