National theatres to work together for first time on James history plays

NTS' Laurie Sansom, playwright Rhona Munro, EIF director Jonathan Mills, Scottish culture secretary Fiona Hyslop and the NT's Robin Hawkes. Photo: Colin Hattersley
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The national theatres of Scotland and Great Britain are to collaborate for the first time, with a major trilogy of history plays to premiere at this August's Edinburgh International Festival.

The James Plays, an EIF co-production, will cover the lives of James I, II and III of Scotland. Written by Rona Munro, they will be directed by NTS artistic director Laurie Sansom. After opening at the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh, they will transfer to the National Theatre's Oliver Theatre for a London run in September and October this year.

Launching the plays in Edinburgh as part of the NTS's autumn season, Sansom said: "The three plays are daring, passionate and offer a tumultuous ride through Scottish 15th century history."

The cycle of plays were the first finished scripts Sansom read when he took over at the NTS from Vicky Featherstone, who had originally commissioned them from Rona Munro.

Speaking of that first reading, Sansom added: "I realised that not only were they a rare gift to an incoming artistic director, they were also something extraordinary to offer to audiences during a year when Scotland’s history and future are under the spotlight."

Speaking to The Stage about the collaboration between the two national companies, Robin Hawkes, director of artistic administration for the NT, said "It is much more of a practical collaboration than just money. We had the workshop down at the NT in London just a few days ago.

"We are hoping that rehearsals will be split between Glasgow and London and we are also hoping that staff from the NT will work alongside NTS staff in making the show across all kinds of technical and production areas too."

He said that the two companies had been in discussion over the years about collaborating: "This is the first thing that felt like the time is right and the locations are right and it is a good fit between the Festival Theatre and the Olivier as well."

Full casting of the three plays has yet to be announced, although James McArdle is to play James I. Margaret of Denmark, married to James III and instrumental to his survival as king, will be played by The Killing star Sofie Gråbøl, in her first English-language theatre role.

The productions are financially supported with £200,000 from the Scottish Government's annual £2.25 million Expo Fund to support work across Edinburgh's 12 major festivals.