Described by one reviewer as “Scotland’s answer to Game Of Thrones”, a unique theatrical experience will land at our theatre this spring. The James Plays are a brand new trilogy of plays written by acclaimed playwright Rona Munro. They’re a fresh, modern – and occasionally bloody – take on the tradition of history plays.
When it comes to history plays, Shakespeare is the grand-daddy of them all. But The James Plays aim to challenge him – and to do for three medieval kings of Scotland what the Bard did for the Richards and Henrys of England. Rona Munro’s trilogy premiered at the Edinburgh Festival in 2014, to huge critical and popular acclaim. As you may have guessed, it tells the stories of three Scottish kings, all called James, who ruled Scotland during the tumultuous fifteenth century.
Let’s be honest: this may all sound a little obscure. But these plays are vivid and exhilarating, with The Daily Telegraph going so far as to describe them as “better than Shakespeare”. Although they can be enjoyed individually, together they are a unique insight into one country’s development at a key moment in its history. And, as such, the producers have come up with an unusual way of presenting them.
Instead of the conventional performance schedule of a week of evening performances, perhaps with a matinee or two added, the plays are performed over the course of just one day, with audiences at each venue having two opportunities to catch the entire trilogy. It’s described as the theatrical equivalent of watching a DVD box-set all in one go.
In Canterbury, the plays will be performed on Friday and Saturday, with performances at 11am, 3pm and 7:30pm on each day. As well as referencing the modern era of box-sets, this schedule harks back to the origins of theatre in Britain, when mystery plays would have been performed as cycles, spread out across a whole day. You can choose to buy tickets for just one or two of the plays – but if you book for all three you’ll get 10% off.
If you want to get even more involved in the action, a limited number of seats are available actually on the stage itself. Although there’s no actual audience participation as such, (insert your own relief or disappointment here, depending on your view of such things) the on-stage audience are used to represent the king’s court. Talk about being at the heart of the action!
The James Plays have the ambitious aim of showing the birth of a nation on stage. Better than Shakespeare? That, you will have to decide for yourself…