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Rona Munro's THE JAMES PLAYS Cycle Set for Edinburgh Festival, Aug 2014; National Theatre, Fall 2014

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Rona Munro's THE JAMES PLAYS Cycle Set for Edinburgh Festival, Aug 2014; National Theatre, Fall 2014

James I, James Ii and James IiI - are a new cycle of history plays by award-winning playwright Rona Munro and directed by Laurie Sansom, Artistic Director of the National Theatre of Scotland, which are to be presented in an unprecedented co-production by the National Theatre of Scotland, Edinburgh International Festival and The National Theatre of Great Britain, during the Edinburgh International Festival in August and at the National Theatre in London from September to October.

This vividly-imagined trilogy brings to life three generations of Stewart Kings who ruled Scotland in the tumultuous fifteenth century. Each play stands alone as a unique vision of a country tussling with its past and future, with its own distinct theatrical atmosphere. Viewed together they create a complex and compelling narrative on Scottish culture and nationhood.

The James Plays promise to be historical drama for a contemporary audience, served up with a refreshing modern directness.

Audiences are invited to join a cast of extraordinary characters in the Edinburgh Festival Theatre and the Olivier Theatre at the National Theatre in these fast paced stories that bring to life Scotland's past through the gripping stories of the men, women and children who once ruled it.

An ensemble of 20 actors will take the audience through a rarely-explored period of history with playful wit and boisterous theatricality, and should prove a landmark of Scottish drama in a remarkable year.

Some events and characters have been invented; others have been altered or simplified to clarify the narrative but, as far as possible, historical record has been used.

- James I (1394 to 1437), married to Joan Beaufort

- James Ii (1430 to 1460), married to Mary of Gueldres

- James IiI (1452 to 1488), married to Margaret of Denmark

Laurie Sansom, Artistic Director of the National Theatre of Scotland says, "When I first read Rona Munro's trilogy of plays about James I, II and III of Scotland, 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. The three plays are daring, passionate and offer a tumultuous ride through Scottish 15th century history. I look forward to bringing Rona's vividly evoked backstage dramas of Scotland's medieval royalty to a contemporary audience in a remarkable year for Scotland and friends. They are a hugely ambitious undertaking for the National Theatre of Scotland and would not have been possible to bring to the stage without the support and partnership from the Edinburgh International Festival, The National Theatre of Great Britain as well as the financial support of the Scottish Government's Expo Fund"

Jonathan Mills, Director of the Edinburgh International Festival says, "The Festival is delighted to be working in partnership with the National Theatre of Scotland and the National Theatre in London. Rona Munro's specially commissioned history plays explore a colourful, intriguing and critical period in Scotland's history lived through the lives of three very different monarchs and the ways in which their personalities and political environment shape their times. The major project from one of our most distinguished playwrights premieres over two weeks in the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh and is a centrepiece of this year's Festival. We thank the Scottish Government's Edinburgh Festivals Expo Fund for its support of this substantial and exciting project"

Nicholas Hytner, Director of The National Theatre of Great Britain says, "When Laurie Sansom sent me Rona Munro's exhilarating trilogy, I knew at once that the National Theatre should be involved. I couldn't be happier that we're collaborating for the first time with the National Theatre of Scotland on three plays which explore Scottish history and Scottish identity, and stand comparison with the greatest historical dramas in the way they use ancient dynastic struggles to illuminate a vast array of current concerns. We look forward to bringing these tremendous plays into the Olivier Theatre's repertoire after their debut at the Edinburgh International Festival."

Rona Munro, writer of the James Plays, says, "I wrote these plays because I adore medieval history. We do not have many accessible, popular culture versions of our medieval history in Scotland and most people have very little knowledge of these events. I want people to experience them as I imagine them, not as something remote happening to people in odd costumes talking in inaccessible 'history speak' but as visceral, epic stories of people who thought and felt as we do. These loves, deaths, friendships and betrayals inform our present. My greatest ambition is that audiences will come out with at least some of the same fevered enthusiasm for our history that I have, and with these stories lodged in their heads."

Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, says: "The James Plays is a superb example of the work of the Expo Fund and the Scottish Government's commitment to supporting Scottish cultural works. This work vividly illustrates how the Edinburgh Festivals can provide a distinctive cultural experience that attracts artists, audiences and media from every continent and more than 70 countries. I am proud the Expo Fund has gone from strength to strength and will continue to ensure Edinburgh's Festivals display the vibrant talent and creativity that exists in Scotland's artistic and cultural life."

ABOUT THE PLAYS:

James I: The Key Will Keep The Lock

By Rona Munro, directed by Laurie Sansom

Bold and irreverent storytelling explores the complex character of this colourful Stewart king - a poet, a lover, a law-maker but also the product of a harsh political system.

James I of Scotland was captured when he was only 13 and became King of Scots in an English prison. 18 years later he's finally delivered back home with a ransom on his head and a new English bride. He's returning to a poor nation, the royal coffers are empty and his nobles are a pack of wolves ready to tear him apart at the first sign of weakness. But James has his own ideas about how to be a king and, after 18 years, he finally has the chance to realise them. James is determined to bring the rule of law to a land riven by warring families, but that struggle will force him to make terrible choices if he is to save himself, his Queen and the crown.

Cast includes: James McArdle (James I), Blythe Duff (Isabella), Cameron Barnes, Daniel Cahill, Sarah Higgins, Rona Morison, Mark Rowley and Fiona Wood.

James McArdle is a young popular actor with extensive roles in theatre, TV and film. In 2013 James appeared on television in New Worlds, (Channel 4); Salting the Battlefield and Turks & Caicos (BBC/ NBC/Heyday Films), 37 Days (BBC), Love and Marriage (ITV), Theatre includes: Chariots of Fire (Hampstead West End/Gielgud Theatre); The Heart of Robin Hood (Royal Shakespeare Company); A Month in the Country (Chichester Festival Theatre); Spur of the Moment, (Royal Court); Macbeth, (The Globe Theatre). Films include: Private Peaceful and 71 (Warp Films/Film 4). Work for the National Theatre includes: Emperor and Galilean.

Blythe Duff returns to the National Theatre of Scotland following roles in Beautiful Burnout (co-produced with Frantic Assembly); Be Near Me (co-produced with the Donmar Warehouse). Her recent theatre roles include the title role in David Harrower's one woman show, Ciara and Iron, for which she won a Best Actress Award at the Critics Awards for Theatre in Scotland, 2013. She is widely known for her TV role as Jackie Reid in Taggart.

James Ii: Day of the Innocents

By Rona Munro, directed by Laurie Sansom

In the second of Rona Munro's dynastical trilogy, innocent games merge with murderous intent in a violent royal playground of shifting realities and paranoia.

An eight year old boy is crowned King of Scots. Soon James Ii is the prize in a vicious game between the country's most powerful families, for whoever has the person of the boy king, controls the state. Seen through a child's eyes, the Scottish court is a world of monsters with sharp teeth and long knives.

Growing up alone, abandoned by his mother and separated from his sisters, James Ii is little better than a puppet. There is only one relationship he can trust, his growing friendship with another lonely boy, William, the future Earl of Douglas. The two boys cling together as they try to survive the murder and mayhem that surrounds them.

But the independence and power of young adulthood brings James into an even more threatening world. He has to fight the feuding nobles who still want to control him, he has to make brutal choices about the people he loves best, he has to struggle to keep his tenuous grip on the security of the crown and on his sanity....while the nightmares and demons of his childhood rise up again with new and murderous intent.

Cast includes: Cameron Barnes, Daniel Cahill, Blythe Duff, Sarah Higgins, Rona Morison, Mark Rowley and Fiona Wood.

James IiI: The True Mirror

By Rona Munro, directed by Laurie Sansom

Like James IiI himself, the final instalment of Rona Munro's extraordinary trilogy is colourful, brash and unpredictable. It turns its eye on the women of the royal court, both lowly and high born, who prove to be its beating heart. Queen Margaret, married to James IiI is played by Sofie Gråbøl, most known to audiences as Sarah Lund in the Danish TV series, The Killing.

James IiI of Scotland. A man who's irresistible, charismatic, a man of fashion and culture. A man with big dreams ...and no budget to realise any of them.

Obsessed with grandiose schemes that his nation can ill-afford and his restless nobles will no longer tolerate, James is loved and loathed in dangerously unstable proportions. But Scotland's future will be decided by the woman who loves him best of all, his resourceful and resilient wife, Queen Margaret of Denmark.

As dreams battle brutal realities and the nation thunders dangerously close to regicide and civil war, her true love and clear vision offer the only protection that can save a fragile monarchy and rescue a struggling people. But the cost for Margaret herself may be too high.

Sofie Gråbøl is an award-winning Danish actor with extensive film and TV credits. She gained international fame for her role as Detective Inspector Sarah Lund in three series of The Killing (BBC 4). She is also an experienced stage actor who has appeared on stage many times with the National Theatre of Denmark, including most recently in a stage version of Ingmar Bergman's Fanny & Alexander.

Cast includes: Sofie Gråbøl (Queen Margaret), Cameron Barnes, Blythe Duff, Sarah Higgins, Rona Morison, Mark Rowley and Fiona Wood.

Laurie Sansom is the Artistic Director and Chief Executive of the National Theatre of Scotland. Previously, he was Artistic Director of the Royal & DernGate Theatre, Northampton, from 2006 and Associate Director to Alan Ayckbourn at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough from 2002 to 2006. Laurie's productions at the Royal & Derngate include The Bacchae, Blood Wedding and Hedda Gabler, which were presented as The Festival of Chaos, as part of London2012 Festival. Other recent productions include Spring Storm and Beyond the Horizon which transferred to the National Theatre, London, and for which he received the 2010 TMA Award for Best Director, Frankenstein (with Frantic Assembly), The Duchess of Malfi and Follies. In 2009, the Royal & Derngate's production of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was presented at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, winning Anna Francolini the TMA Award for Best Performance in a Play. He has directed for theatres around the UK including the Traverse, Birmingham Rep, Salisbury Playhouse, Lyric Hammersmith, New Vic, Stoke, West Yorkshire Playhouse and the National Theatre, London, where he recently directed The Holy Rosenbergs.

Rona Munro's recent theatre writing credits include Donny's Brain (Hampstead Downstairs), The Astronaut's Chair (for the Drum Theatre Plymouth), Pandas (for the Traverse Theatre), Little Eagles (for the Royal Shakespeare Company), a contemporary adaptation of The House Of Bernarda Alba for the National Theatre of Scotland), The Last Witch (for the Edinburgh International Festival), Long Time Dead (co-production with Paines Plough and the Drum Theatre Plymouth), Iron (for the Traverse Theatre -winner of the John Whiting award), and Mary Barton (for the Royal Exchange Theatre). Television work includes the BAFTA nominated Bumping The Odds and Rehab (both for the BBC). Film work includes Ladybird Ladybird directed by Ken Loach and Oranges And Sunshine directed by Jim Loach. Radio work includes multiple episodes of The Stanley Baxter Playhouse. She is the writing half of Scotland's award winning women's theatre company The Misfits.

This is the National Theatre of Scotland's fifth co-production with the Edinburgh International Festival. Previous productions include: Realism (2006); The Bacchae (2007); 365 (2008) and Caledonia (2010). This is the first co-production between the National Theatre of Scotland and The National Theatre of Great Britain.

The National Theatre of Great Britain has been presented at the Festival on a number of occasions over the last thirty years, with productions including Watch on the Rhine, The Passion, On the Razzle and Fuente Ovejuna.

Booking information: Tickets will be on sale to the public for the Edinburgh International Festival on 29 March and on 19 March for friends and patrons of the Festival. Booking dates for The National Theatre of Great Britain are to be announced.

For more information, visit www.nationaltheatrescotland.com, www.eif.co.uk and www.nationaltheatre.org.uk. Join the conversation: #jamesplays.

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