EIF 2014, James II: Day of The Innocents, Festival Theatre, review

Rating (out of 5)
Show info
National Theatre of Scotland, Edinburgh International Festival and National Theatre of Great Britain
Rona Munro(writer) Laurie Sansom (director) Jon Bausor (set and costume designer), Philip Gladwell (lighting design), Christopher Shutt (sound design), Neil Bettles (movement director), Amanda Gaughan (associate director), Paul Leonard-Morgan (composer)
Andrew Rothney (James II), Mark Rowley (William Douglas),Gordon Kennedy (Livingston), Peter Forbes (Balvenie), Daniel Cahill (Earl of Douglas), Ali Craig (Crichton), Nick Elliott (John Stewart), Andrew Fraser (David Douglas), Blythe Duff (Isabella Stewart), Sarah Higgins (Meg), Stephanie Hyam (Joan and Mary), Rona Morrison (Annabella), David Mara (Hume), Cameron Barnes, Alasdair Macrae, Beth Marshall,Fiona Wood (Ensemble).
Running time

James II: Day of The Innocents, the second of Rona Munro’s historical trilogy, is a gripping tale of trauma, brutality and betrayal.

When James I is assassinated by his own nobles, his son becomes King James II - a grand title for a little boy just six years of age. His father’s murder marks the beginning of a traumatic childhood, the effects of which never really leave him. James is haunted by nightmares so debilitating that, once woken, he struggles to reconnect to reality. These nightmares persist well into adulthood.

In the early years it is his dear friend William Douglas – a boy about the same age - who restores him to calm. The play’s focus is the development and decline of this close friendship that ends in tragedy, and so ends the play. However, ominously omnipresent in the play’s peripheral vision, are the power-hungry, mercenary and paranoid nobles who plot among themselves, changing allegiances as it suits them, while ruling Scotland on behalf of their young king.

The most powerful and brutal of the nobles is the Earl of Douglas, William’s father, whose family own half of Scotland. Desperate always for more land, his driving belief is that your life has been worth nothing unless you own the land under which you are finally buried. It is only after the death of William’s father, urged on by his young wife, that James finally takes on the role of King. For William, his father’s death empowers him towards his own belief: that there is no point to owning another hundred wet sheep if you have to do what another man says. And therein lies the rub.

This enthralling story was told with classic, understated style. Rona Munro’s script delivers layers of intrigue with a straightforward lucidity and the staging reflects this motif of unadorned simplicity with an authentic, guttural kick. Both Andrew Rothney as James and Mark Rowley as William were compelling as the central characters but this really was an ensemble piece in the true sense of the word, with all parts played to perfection. A triumph!

James II only; Thursday 21st August at 7.30pm
All three plays on the same day; Sunday 17th and Wednesday 20th August.