James III: The True Mirror

Aug 12 2014 | By More

★★★★☆  Humorously anachronistic

Festival Theatre Sun 10 – Fri 22 Aug 2014

Cheerfully modern – and far more upbeat than its ostensibly tragic material would have suggested – James III: The True Mirror provides an energetic, occasionally puzzling conclusion to The James Plays.

Sofie Grabol and Jamie Sives. Photo: Robert Day

Sofie Grabol and Jamie Sives. Photo: Robert Day

The onstage ceilidh before the play proper opens, with the cast dancing to folked-up versions of Lorde’s Royals and Pharrell Williams’s Happy, sets the tone for what is to come. Modern dress and props are used, there is a decidedly Pythonesque choir, and the excellent Jamie Sives plays James as an egotistical rock star – garishly clad, preening, bisexual, quixotic, and at one point dragging flowers behind him in a clear nod to Morrissey.

Not only is the stage more brightly lit than in the previous plays, the mood is lighter too. What could be treated as a dark, tragic political tale instead becomes a kind of doomed rom-com, focusing on James’s troubled relationship with his Danish wife Margaret.

For much of the time, in fact, Margaret is the centre of attention. Sofie Grabol responds to this with a magnetic, majestic turn as the queen. It has often been suggested that she would have been the better ruler – and here she is, doing her sums while her husband dreams of cathedrals and English invasions.

a lightness of touch

The female focus of much of the action is helped by strong performances by Rona Morison as her servant Phemy, Fiona Wood as the king’s mistress Daisy, and by Blythe Duff, once again impressive, this time as the king’s aunt Annabella. The sequences with the mirror of the title are treated with a lightness of touch that eliminates any potentially clunky symbolism.

Jamie Sives (James III) and his decidedly Pythonesque choir. Photo: Robert Day

Jamie Sives (James III) and his decidedly Pythonesque choir. Photo: Robert Day

Once again, Laurie Sansom’s direction is notably strong, enabling the production to juggle comedy and tragedy. The playfully anachronistic feel of the action is well sustained for most of the play, but the last half-hour seems oddly stretched out, with sections that are straining too hard for contemporary relevance.

Even when seen as part of the whole sequence, however, it barely outstays its welcome – a sign of the care, skill and judgement in evidence throughout.

Running time 2 hours 30 minutes including interval
Festival Theatre , 13-29 Nicolson St, Edinburgh EH8 9FT
Thurs 14, Fri 15 and Fri 22 Aug at 7.30 pm
Sun 10, Sat 16, Sun 17 and Wed 20 Aug at 8.15 pm
Tickets from: www.eif.co.uk/2014/james3

On Tour to London:
The Olivier Theatre,  National Theatre, South Bank, London, SE1 9PX.

Fri 19 Sept – Wed 29 Oct 2014
Various times
Details on NT website: www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/james-iii-the-true-mirror


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