James III: The True Mirror

Rona Munro

National Theatres of Scotland and Great Britain

Festival Theatre

From 10 August 2014 to 20 August 2014

Rating: *****

Review by Philip Fisher

For a little light relief, the evening session begins with a joyous ceilidh in modern dress.

This is the prelude to the arrival of a louche, playboy King, portrayed by Jamie Sives. How such a dissolute waster could have been of the noble blood seen in the earlier plays is a mystery to all and he quickly drives his apologist wife, parliament and country to despair.

Things are only kept afloat for two reasons. First, Queen Margaret played superbly by The Killing favourite Sophie Gråbøl is, like her two predecessors, the kind of power behind the throne that should be running the country. Secondly, Scotland appears to have been politically stable for at least a decade and a half, allowing the King to chase around after anything in a skirt (or even a kilt).

Despite her support and patience, the Queen is eventually ditched, still helping behind the scenes with the national finances utilising the sleazy assistance of the Head of the Privy Council, Gordon Kennedy’s third meaty role during a long but fulfilling day.

James fears his young son, Daniel Cahill as mummy’s boy James, possibly with good reason. After all, the boy is destined to become James IV and his accession might not necessarily await the next outbreak of the plague, if the King’s detractors have their way.

Civil insurrection is always on the cards and becomes a certainty when the King thumbs his nose at Parliament in a fashion more suited to a coked-up nightclub brawler.

This satisfying conclusion to an epic journey benefits greatly from scenes utilising a Venetian vanity mirror. This has a magical effect on all who behold it, much to the amusement of the packed house.

That isn't the only fun for a Scottish audience. When the King finally loses his equanimity and Margaret steps into the breach, her rallying speech could have been written for Alex Salmond to deliver on the day of the Independence Referendum and drew admiring cheers.

This trilogy may not be perfect, occasionally over-simplifying issues that must surely have been considerably more complex, but it is a great way for Laurie Sansom to launch his tenure at NTS and should please audiences at both National Theatres over the coming months.