Rona Munro's play James I: The Key Will Keep the Lock is the first in her trilogy, The James Plays, about three generations of Stewart kings who ruled Scotland in the fifteenth century. It explores the complex, colourful character of James I, poet, lover and law-maker.
The James Plays (also comprising James II: Day of the Innocents and James III: The True Mirror) were premiered on 10 August 2014 at the Festival Theatre Edinburgh, as part of the Edinburgh International Festival in a co-production between the National Theatre of Scotland, the Edinburgh International Festival and the National Theatre of Great Britain. The production opened in the Olivier auditorium of the National Theatre, London, on 10 September 2014.
Captured at the age of 13 and crowned King of Scots in an English prison, James I of Scotland is delivered home 18 years later with a ransom on his head and a new English bride. The nation he returns to is poor: the royal coffers empty and his nobles ready to tear him apart at the first sign of weakness. Determined to bring the rule of law to a land riven by warring factions, James faces terrible choices if he is to save himself, his Queen and the crown.
In an introduction to the published script, Munro writes: 'These plays are set within a period of Scottish history which is virtually unknown. I feel a certain responsibility, therefore, to alert you to the fact that some small liberties have been taken with known events in order to serve our stories. Certain characters represent amalgamations of many characters or stand for political forces within Scotland. Certain events have had their timelines altered to maximise the drama. However, as far as narrative imperatives allow, I’ve followed history and used primary sources. We cannot know the character and thoughts of these dead kings and queens and long-gone Scots. We can speculate a whole series of possibilities from the few hard facts we can rely on, the slim historical evidence of their actions. However, I feel robustly certain that whatever their thoughts and feelings might have been, human nature is exactly the same now as it was then. Only culture and circumstances have changed.'
The premiere production was directed by Laurie Sansom and designed by Jon Bausor. The cast included Cameron Barnes as Big James Stewart, Blythe Duff as Isabella Stewart, Peter Forbes as Balvenie, Sarah Higgins as Meg, Stephanie Hyam as Joan, Gordon Kennedy as Murdac Stewart, James McArdle as James I, Andrew Rothney as Walter Stewart, Mark Rowley as Alisdair Stewart and Jamie Sives as Henry V.