The James Plays trilogy is set in 15th century Scotland and yet there is much about them that's relevant to a 21st century Canadian audience. We asked some of the cast members to tell us what they think you'll identify with and also their favourite aspect of the shows!
Q: What would you say are the major strengths and appeal of your king, as well as any fatal flaws, or weaknesses?
Steven Miller (James I): My James I is an honest, fair, and romantic-minded king. But I think these strengths as a human being also become his weaknesses as a king – the decisions he makes to win the love of his queen are his undoing.
Andrew Rothney (James II): James II's strengths would be his desire to do the right thing. His love for his family and his good friends. And his passion for sport! His weaknesses are the mental trauma he suffered as a young boy, which gives him huge trust issues and psychotic episodes.
Matthew Pidgeon (James III): James III can be charming, funny and passionate. On a personal level we discover that he has been kind, gentle and thoughtful in the past. UNFORTUNATELY he is also a bit of a megalomaniac, a hedonist, and horrible to his wife and kids. He can't be bothered with the boring bits of being a King (justice, law, government etc) and antagonises virtually everyone around him in the end.
Photo by Manuel Harlan.
Can audiences expect to identify with these characters even though they lived completely different lives in completely different times?
SM: Absolutely! These plays being incredibly modern, fresh and funny. The social and political landscape may have changed since James' day, but the emotions at their heart are every bit as strong.
MP: The plays are very modern in style. The relationships and language are very contemporary. I'd say the characters and their problems are completely relatable, there's just a lot more stabbing. But hey, that's fun right?
Rosemary Boyle and Sally Reid in James I: The Key Will Keep The Lock. Photo by Tommy Ga-Ken Wan.
Blythe Duff (Isabella/Anabella): All three plays deal with relationships – mothers, sons, fathers, husbands, wives, friendship, lovers...all the audience can identify with that...I promise!
John Stahl (Murdac/Livingston): Yes, because the politics of the time are no different from the politics of the day.
David Mara (Crichton/Musician/Ensemble): The characters in these plays are wrestling with universal issues – love, friendship, family, identity. And whether or not to murder your best mate.
Peter Forbes (Balvenie): Yes, the times may have been different but human nature is a constant and we are all driven by the same forces of love, revenge, ambition, faith, self-belief, political vision and greed, no matter when we happen to live.
Brian O'Sullivan (Tam/Musician/Ensemble): All the characters have egos, just like us, and have the instinct to love, to look after their kin and to defend what they believe in, just as we do.
Rosemary Boyle (Queen Joan/Queen Mary): We can all relate to the themes of love, war, relationships and family: things that tear us apart and bind us together.
Did you learn anything about yourself playing this role?
SM: It's really allowed me to enjoy and explore a bit more about my heritage as a Scot. We're all really proud to share these shows with the world!
MP: I'll try to be nicer to my family.
Daniel Cahill and Andrew Rothney in James II: Day of The Innocents. Photo by Tommy Ga-Ken Wan.
What is your most favourite thing/moment about/in the James Plays?
BD: When the audience laugh in the pre-show entertainment at the start of James lll Act 2. It takes a beat and then it never fails...so drink up and don't miss it.
JS: The plays are love stories: James I and Joan; Murdac and Isabella; Murdac, Isabella and their sons; James II and Will; James III and himself.
DM: It's got to be the football scene in James II – art, sport and politics in glorious collision. And this time around, I get to watch instead of playing!
PF: The energy of the story-telling combined with the muscularity and poetry of the dialogue make the sweep of these three monumental history plays, and the characters who inhabit them, feel very contemporary.
BO: When the audience is entering the theatre for James III on a trilogy day and they begin to enjoy the music and dancing, I get the feeling that we're sharing in something unique and special. We've all been living these stories since the beginning of the day, and we only have a few more hours in each others' company. The tone of the third play is so different that it always takes the audience pleasantly by surprise.
RB: My favourite thing about these plays is just how different they all are from each other: you feel in a different world with each of them.
Matthew Pidgeon and Malin Crépin in James III: The True Mirror. Photo by Tommy Ga-Ken Wan.
Why is this an important story to tell?
SM: Although they're not strictly history plays, The James Plays focus in on a little known part of Scottish history – not to mention they're some of the best writing I've seen in a long time.
AR: Because it's a universal story of young people rising up against those who would hold you down by telling you you're not good enough. Also these stories have had an effect on how the world was shaped up until this point and to be seeing it as it happened will be a special experience. I cannot wait to show Toronto audiences.
MP: I think they are just great stories. It's not dry history – it's universal and exciting drama, which is surprising, moving, funny and really gripping. It's a part of Scottish history that is not widely known about even in Scotland, so basically it's new to all of us.
The James Plays run June 16–26 at the Hearn Generating Station.
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