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James IV – Queen of the Fight, a follow up to the hugely successful ‘James Plays’ trilogy,  presents the turbulent court of King James IV, bringing to life unchartered Scottish history and challenging assumptions of marginalised femininity in order to innovatively present 16th century women leveraging authority and challenging the status quo.

The plot follows the action of two high-born black Moorish women, Ellen (Danielle Jam) and Anne (Laura Lovemore) from Andalusia, who have been captured on a Portuguese ship pirated by the Scots, and brought to live within the bounds of the Scottish court. A court that’s atmosphere is marked by the strain of a contractual marriage between King James IV (Daniel Cahill) and Queen Margaret (Sarita Gabony), dependent on the delivery of an heir to secure peace between Scotland and England.

Yet the elapsing of 700 or so years by no means detracts from the modernity of the production itself, Munro’s carefully cultivated script allows for the characters to be brought to life in a manner which avoids dwelling upon antiquated and tedious 16th century custom – instead locating these narratives in the nexus of contemporary conversations concerning race, gender and power.

Considering the productions success in modernising a potentially archaic narrative, it was refreshing to see that set designer Jon Bausor resisted the current vogue of creating a temporally ambiguous set, instead rendering the 16th century Scottish court by way of woven tapestries, opulent velvet cushions and mahogany furniture: an implicit reminder of Ellen and Anne’s precarious position at the mercy of Queen Margaret’s erratic caprice.

Despite witnessing James IV’s physical prowess through beautifully choreographed sword fighting scenes at the royal tournaments, it is the poet William Dunbar’s (Keith Fleming) words which are shown to be the most dangerous weapon as opposed to the King’s sword, the poets delivery of his racist ‘flyting’ at the plays denouement evoking a tangible shudder from the audience. The writer and executive producer, Rona Munro alleges that ‘history is the foundation that forms our present’ – a notion which will leave the audience contemplating just exactly how effective challenges towards attitudes of race and gender have been in the interim.

                                                                                                                           Reviewed by Radio Saltire's Maisie Ringer 6th October 2022.

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