Review James II: Day of the Innocents, National Theatre
Review: Great Britain with Lucy Punch as Paige Britain, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Review James III: The True Mirror, National Theatre

Sophie Grabol and Jamies Sives in James III: The True Mirror

James III feels the most contemporary and sexy of the three James Play. There is pre-performance entertainment, the cast dancing to folk covers of popular tunes (Lorde's Royals making its second stage appearance this year) so make sure you get to your seat early.

The fun and frolics and flying kilts set the tone of James III's (Jamie Sives) court; he is a King that likes the arts, entertainment, fine wine, women and men, everything except his kingly duties. And that is the tension in this play in a plot that has shades of Shakespeare's Richard II.

James is on a journey to self destruction as he angers the rich noblemen who sit in his court. He is vain, narcissistic, jealous and dismissive. He turns up late to Parliament inappropriately dressed and arranges himself on his thrown like a petulant teenager. He is jealous of his son's youth and is cruel as a result. He also takes it out on his wife Margaret (Sophie Grabol of The Killing fame) whom he he wants all for himself.

But, for all that Jamie Sives gives the King a cheekiness and a sense of fun that make for a lovable if vexing character. When vanity leads him to employing a choir to follow him around and lighten up the dull moments you can't help but laugh and secretly be envious that he's done it (because you would if you could).

Unlike Richard II who believed that divine right would win the day, James seems aware that he is leading himself to his downfall, he's just going to have as much fun as he can en route.

Margaret is the good sense of the piece. She loves her husband and doesn't brook his nonsense. She uses whatever influence she can to try and steer him on a less destructive path and takes on a lot of his work. There is one particular speech she gives Parliament that had Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond had her on side for the 'Yes' campaign the result might have been a little different.

The writing is on the wall from the outset for James III, you know deep down this isn't going to end well and it doesn't. Tragedy and psychological scars are passed on to next generation.

And so the James Plays finish with a bang and left me wanting more. If only Rona Munro could pen the next three instalments.

James III runs in rep with James I and James II at the National Theatre until the end of October. Each is a standalone play and can be viewed as such but having seen all three in one day I would urge you to do the same. The three back to back are a feast of theatre and a monumental achievement for all involved which you only fully appreciate in seeing them in quick succession.  Each is different in tone and execution but there is a continuity of characters, plot and little jokes that give a deeper context.

Related reviews

James I: The Key Will Keep Its Lock

James II: Day of the Innocents


The final kingly connection is an easy one (thanks to @Polyg), Jamie Sives is in the Ron Howard film Heart of the Sea in which Mr W plays Herman Melville. They may not have actually met while making the film but they've both worked with Ron Howard so...