James II: Day of the Innocents

Day of the Innocents takes place on the same set as the first James play, but it feels somewhat different thanks to subtle changes of dressing and lighting. This is apt; this is a tale of friendship and rivalry between cousins and childhood friends James II (Andrew Rothney) and William Douglas (Andrew Still). The latter is an abused child who turns threatening when he inherits the title of Balvenie, but he underestimates the strength of his nightmare-haunted cousin James. The result is a deeply tragic tale.

it is confusing from the start, with James in and out of a trunk like a jack-in-a-box while speaking with an unconvincing wingeing baby voice.

But it is confusing from the start, with James in and out of a trunk like a jack-in-a-box while speaking with an unconvincing wingeing baby voice. As a dream sequence, the scene drags on too long and doesn’t add much to the fill-in of James II’s early years. James’ relationship with the half-mad mother in mourning Isabella Stewart (played brilliantly by Blythe Duff) is suitably unsettling, verging on gothic-horror which ultimately leads to some surprising treachery.

Yet Daniel Cahill’s Earl of Douglas is too Flashheart while Rosemary Boyle’s Mary is sadly ‘Ello, ‘Ello; both comic attributes at odds with their characters. Rothney’s performance in the last scene with William Douglas was sadly impaired by his very real football injury and gives it the feel of harmless pub banter rather than life-threatening argument.

The under-floor lighting, whilst adding to the atmosphere, did however become a strain on the eyes and the low background music an irritation to the ears; these felt like devices needed by a much less experienced playwright to convey atmosphere, rather than relying on a tight script, and made it feel more like a television fantasy drama on a pay-to-view channel. There’s even a minotaur wandering about this half-lit underworld. A couple of explosions from the hilt of the enormous sword embedded in the floor are confusing; perhaps they are essential to guarantee the audience’s attention and wakefulness at key points in the plot.

Melodramatic and overplayed as a whole, it is Rothney’s incredible perseverance to the very last after his injury and Duff’s twisted crone that save this production from being shallow.

Reviews by Sarah McIntosh

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James II: Day of the Innocents

★★★
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Performances

Location

The Blurb

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

A six 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 bring 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.

Featuring Blythe Duff as Isabella of Lennox.

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