See you, Jimmies: The James Plays
History is remembered in the cold light of today
Theatre is a dishonest art form: through the propaganda of Shakespeare, Richard III is remembered as a hunch-backed tyrant and Macbeth a murderous usurper. In Dunsinane, David Greig attempted to rehabilitate Macbeth's wife's reputation, and The National Theatre of Scotland follows this theme with the return of Rona Munro's The James Plays, a trilogy examining the reigns of the first three Stewart Kings.
Premièred in the 2014 Edinburgh Festival, the trilogy is a bold example of the NTS's artistic director Laurie Sansom's vision for Scottish performance that engages with modern ideas. Munro's script, glancing back at Shakespeare's ability to shape popular interpretation of history, echoes the contemporary fascination with Scottish national identity.
Yet far from being a cheerful picture of a contented and independent nation, all three of the plays expose the machinations behind the establishment of a dynasty. While Shakespeare is easily accused of simplifying the conflicts in The War of The Roses into a parable about the triumph of good monarchy, Munro and Sansom paint a more complicated picture of aristocratic skulduggery and the corruption of power.
The return of The James Plays offers opportunities to critique the manner in which art can manipulate history, and theatre can present a vision of the past that deals with modern concerns. Despite the association with a rich heritage of British history plays, The James Plays are a reflection on how the past can be used to shape the future.