Tuesday, November 29

James IV: Queen of the Fight – Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

“I’d no illusions I could match Shakespeare, but I thought someone should try and dramatise Scotland’s history,” said Rona Munro when she set out on the James series of plays. And this latest one, James IV: Queen of the Fight, brought to the stage by Raw Material and Capital Theatres in association with National Theatre of Scotland, is a cracker.

The script has humour and is earthy, mixing modern language, clothes and gestures with a set which reflects the sixteenth century and costumes to match. It is framed by the acknowledgement that this is storytelling, based on historical evidence. It is a snapshot in time of James IV and Queen Margaret’s court. It is compelling and exciting in equal measure.

The strong king (Daniel Cahill) fights his foes for fun yet has a tender heart and a sense of duty. Queen Margaret, young and in a foreign land, is inanely childish. We find her flouncing on her bed in a huff over having to bear children. She is portrayed beautifully by Sarita Gabony. I felt for her, living with a king who saw her through the lens of duty rather than love and who openly played the field. Similarities with our present-day Royal Family cannot be missed. Queen Margaret’s fondness for Archibald Douglas (Samuel Pashby) shows a woman who isn’t going into the shadows lightly.

Blythe Duff, the queen’s ally, is immensely watchable as Dame Phemy.

Daniel Cahill played James IV in the previous play, James III: The True Mirror. He is a true storyteller, and his court is full of wonderful actors. Danielle Jam and Laura Lovemore are terrific as Ellen and Lady Anne and Keith Fleming, a stalwart of Dundee Rep Ensemble, is great as Dunbar. In fact, the entire ensemble is faultless. They act, play musical instruments and bring the audience into their world. Director, Laurie Sansom can be rightly proud of his team.

The Battle of Flodden scene is simple, yet very effectively staged with the guidance of movement director, Neil Bettles in collaboration with the ingenious set (the multi-award-winning Jon Bausor). The set is both rustic, as you would expect of the fifteenth century, and opulent with tapestries and chandeliers dropping from the ceiling. The sweep of steps allows for diversity and space on which to stage bedroom scenes, grand arrivals and battles.

The issues of race, servitude and acceptance were all lightly brushed. The role of women in society, a constant in Munro’s writing, took centre stage alongside the male bravado.

The first night of James IV: Queen of the Fight was a truly worthy world premiere.

Reviewer: Kathleen Mansfield

Reviewed 4th October 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★