Like the first, the final play in Rona Munro’s James Plays is part family saga, part love story. Yet the atmosphere is quite different; the brutalist set has morphed to something more feminine, with roses and green foliage decorating the back. The audience arrives to a party already taking place on the stage; people drinking and dancing to odd versions of contemporary pop tunes. They wear costumes collected from different eras. It’s into this party that we’re introduced to a more decadent king whose sensible Danish wife Margaret keeps the books and tolerates his infidelities.
The True Mirror is the strongest of the three James Plays, one which may translate best onto film.
From the start the bawdy humour is evident. The long-suffering wife is still evidently fond of him and has confidence in her position of power and influence. This is portrayed well by Swedish actor, Malin Crepin; an elegant and spacious performance albeit occasionally prone to stumbling on her words. Nevertheless the play is hers. Matthew Pidgeon’s James is an angry bi-sexual bear with lunatic tendencies; a far more complex character than his predecessors, he prefers sex and culture to politics, but – when pushed – proves as ruthless as his forefathers. He defends the need for music in a line so topical it could have been written about Edinburgh council’s proposed cuts to music tuition. His small choir idea is comedy gold, pure incongruity.
The best feminist line comes from the king’s aunt Annabella (Blythe Duff) who says to the Queen: “If he’s not going to treat you like a decent wife he should pay you a wage.” A woman before her time. But she has many great one liners and feels like the queen’s backbone. Head of the Privy Council and the queen’s potential extra-marital love interest, John (Ali Craig), meantime, comes across as rather beige, and that’s not just his outfit.
While there is an actual prop, the titular mirror – a new invention from Venice – is also a metaphor for truly seeing oneself. Is this a mirror held up to the audience’s gaze, to reflect upon what Scotland is as a nation as it is held up to the new king? Two years after the play’s first production and the independence referendum, the question still stabs the heart of the Scottish people as the great sword on the stage stabs the cool blue saltire.
The True Mirror is the strongest of the three James Plays, one which may translate best onto film. Despite the late hour, the strength of the script shone through till the end as quite possibly the best depiction of Scots to date.