James V: Katherine – Tron Theatre, Glasgow

Reviewer: Lauren Humphreys

Writer: Rona Munro

Director: Orla O’Loughlin

Designer: Becky Minto

Costume Design: Shannon Blackwood

Music: Danny Krass

Lighting: Derek Anderson

Rona Munro’s epic series of history plays on Scotland’s Stuart Kings, a series that started in 2014 with the James Plays trilogy, continues in this fifth instalment with James V: Katherine.

It’s 1528 and the Catholic Church are feeling the rumblings of the Scottish Reformation. Lutheran preacher Patrick Hamilton (Benjamin Osugo) a second cousin of the King (Sean Connor), is burned at the stake in St. Andrews for his beliefs. His 19 year-old sister Katherine (Catriona Faint) fellow believer, is arrested and brought to Edinburgh to stand trial.

Katherine is no ordinary young woman of her time, her keen intellect and quick tongue runs rings around her accusers in the ecclesiastical court, but as with all those regarded as heretics, her fate seems sealed. It isn’t until she examines what she holds dearest – faith or love, that her future is decided.

Katherine ultimately agrees to deny her faith during a private meeting with the capricious young King, subsequently fleeing to Berwick-Upon-Tweed. So far so reasonably historically correct. Munro strays into undocumented territory in introducing Katherine’s love story with her young, widowed, sister-in-law Jenny (Alyth Ross). However, it does provide the motivation for Katherine’s final decision on her fate.

While Munro’s previous plays in the series have been epic in scale, James V: Katherine is a much more intimate affair. The cast of four play out the action on Becky Minto’s spare, lantern-strewn set clad in Shannon Blackwood’s, black, modern costumes, lit beautifully by Derek Anderson. There’s also some atmosphere-setting with the smell of burning embers as the audience enters.

In an age when few women were educated and only required to “sew a straight seam”, and in a play where the king asks “does anyone remember the women?” the women are key. The dialogue is witty, pithy and lively. Both Faint and Ross are captivating and dynamic as the central female duo. Impressive too is Sean Connor as the mercurial, swaggering young King.

In scaling back this latest instalment of her epic series (a tidy 75 minutes) Munro has delivered a work with more punch, one that proves that there is an audience for history plays on the modern theatrical stage.

Runs until 27 April 2024| Image: Mihaela Bodlovic

The Reviews Hub Score

Pithy and punchy

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The Reviews Hub - Scotland

The Scotland team is under the editorship of Lauren Humphreys. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. We aim to review all professional types of theatre, whether that be Commercial, Repertory or Fringe as well as Comedy, Music, Gigs etc.

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