James IV of Scotland was a successful king of the 15th and 16th Century.
He oversaw advances in science, education and building in his home country, and secured a peace with England through marriage to Margaret Tudor and friendships with other countries.
A lusty machismo
In this bold, exciting and revelatory play by Rona Munro, Daniel Cahill’s James IV is a powerful man, his wisdom soaked in a lusty machismo.
He stages court battles where his defeat of Donald (Malcolm Cumming), son of the last Lord of the Isles, is enacted, as the amusing but self-regarding Dunbar (Keith Fleming) flytes like a crude court jester.
Into this world step two Moorish Ladies from Bilbao, Anne (Laura Lovemore) and Ellen (Danielle Jam), who respectively befriend the homesick and flighty Margaret (Sarita Gabony) and James as his secret lover and ‘Queen’ of the court battle.
Dame Phemy (Blythe Duff, ever-excellent) plots in the background against these women in particular.
Her all-consuming desire to maintain the king’s power is propelled by her and Dunbar’s willingness to stoke racism, which sadly rings through the ages.
For all it intrigues and entertains, the timelessness of its commentary upon power and human nature is the great strength of the play.
Back in 2014, Aberdonian playwright Munro’s James Plays sequence was shown in a series of marathon day-long performances at the Edinburgh International Festival.
It was a dramatised exploration of Scottish history, the blockbuster of the season and a powerful but neutral way of dipping into the talk of that Indyref year.
Powerful and ambitious
Now, eight years on and directed once more by Laurie Sansom, Munro’s ambitious plan to chart the course of Scottish monarchy up to the Act of Union in 1707 continues, with Raw Material, Capital Theatres and the National Theatre of Scotland’s delayed fourth instalment of a seven-part saga.
It bears every inch the power and resonance of its predecessors.
James IV: Queen of the Fight is at Dundee Rep Theatre until Saturday October 22.
Then it’s at Macrobert Arts Centre, Stirling, October 9 to November 12. This production was seen at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh.