In this one-performer play by writer Donald Smith, actor Robin Thomson plays King James – at once James VI of Scotland and James I of England. Set towards the end of his long reign, the piece is simultaneously an elucidation of the history of James himself, along with his views on his family, his thoughts on witches and his attitudes towards religion, as well as being a celebration of his patronage of The King’s Men, the title afforded to Shakespeare’s company during his time as monarch. With a combination of Smith’s own words and familiar extracts from Macbeth, Hamlet and King Lear,
A genuinely interesting portrayal of King James which I would like to see again in a more successful performance.
Housed within the intimate upper floor of John Knox House, the audience of around ten people was enough to give the impression of a full crowd. With a fire burning in the grate, and only an armchair and a few items present on stage, it is clear that this is a play heavily reliant on the actor’s facility to communicate the text in an engaging manner. The piece begins in a hopeful way, with the off-stage calls of the King resonating through the walls of our cosy room. Anticipation builds as the door is approached, and we get our first glimpse of the noble monarch – in his nightgown. The flowing white garment is a strong indicator of our privilege in seeing James in his most private moments.
Soon enough though, Thomson settles into his part and moves through a series of episodes in which he gives voice to his innermost thoughts. Most enjoyable is his delivery of the Shakespearean lines, included in just the right places by Smith, which strongly convey James’ erudite person.
Slightly less successful in this performance were some of the exchanges between James and the skull, as well as other figures issuing from his mind. The vocal differentiation needed for these characters was present though not always easy to follow clearly. On this occasion also there were rather too many instances of forgotten lines and reliance on the prompt which did somewhat break the illusion, but credit to Thomson for the way he managed to regain his flow each time. This is a genuinely interesting portrayal of King James which I would like to see again in a more successful performance.