Posts Tagged ‘Sofie Grabol’

No, this isn’t the history of my family in three plays, it’s the 15th century history of Scotland; far less important. These three plays take us through a turbulent time from 1406 to 1488, when the Scottish nobility fought amongst themselves during the imprisonment of James I by the English, the youth of James II, too young to reign, and the excesses of James III. In England, the same century starts with Henry IV and goes through Henry’s V & VI and Richard III to Henry VII. Rona Munro’s plays provide a 6h40m Scottish history lesson, but also entertaining and thrilling theatre. The National Theatre of Scotland’s new Artistic Director, who was last at the (English) NT with brilliant and rare early Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neill, starts his reign with a bang.

The first play covers just four years, from the end of James I’s imprisonment in 1422, at the time of the death of Henry V, through his return to Scotland aged 28 to deal with a bunch of noblemen who’ve got far too used to running the show on their own. He has to despatch rather a lot of them before he can rule for 15 years himself; it’s bloody and brilliant. In the second, James II becomes king aged 6 and a battle for power rages between noblemen on who rules on his behalf until he is 18, after which he goes on to rule for just 11 years. The third play starts when James III has been an adult king for around 15 years and has become an exceedingly unpopular one. Despite a seemingly successful marriage to Margaret of Denmark (played here by The Killing’s Sofie Grabol, a real Dane!), he has become a philanderer and spendthrift with a debauched lifestyle. Margaret tries to keep things in control, but rebellion becomes overpowering and she has to take power herself hold Scotland together. The third play ends movingly as James IV ascends the throne aged 15. It was a chaotic, anarchic century for Scotland, which brought out the worst in their greedy, blood-thirsty nobility. You can see why clans were forever in conflict. What struck me most was how young people had to grow up so soon and assume positions of power and authority as mere children.

Jon Bausor’s design make the Olivier Theatre in-the-round with seven entrances and action between and in the high-level stage seating. There’s a giant sword which at various times bleeds, it set alight and becomes bejewelled. The first two plays are costumed alike in rough-and ready period dress, but the third takes a more modern spin; I’m not entirely sure why, but it worked. The staging is wonderful, often thrilling, managing to play battles and intimate scenes equally effectively. It would be invidious to single out any performances because it seems to me that the excellence of the entire cast is key to its success. The second play isn’t as good as the other two (again, I’m not entirely sure why; maybe for us all dayers just a natural PM drop in energy) but in my view its not as much of a dip as others have suggested. Overall, I think its a theatrical feast, one which I’m glad I ate in a single day and one which I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

Though a product of the ever enterprising and nomadic NTS, this co-production with the more static NT provides a timely example of what union can bring. A highlight in a lifetime of theatre-going.

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