The Hidden Histories of James V: Katherine 

Raw Material and Capital Theatres new co-production James V: Katherine, the latest in writer Rona Munro’s The James Plays series, is a fresh take on the format and a distinct look at untold Scottish history. 

Rona Munro’s monumental James Plays project has given Scotland ways to explore its identity through stories of battle, blood ties and betrayal - all from the Festival Theatre stage. With James V: Katherine, the narrative shifts from the epic to the intimate, and with it, the venue from the Festival Theatre to The Studio. With such an impressive and impactful series preceding it, shifting the scale allows for a new way of uncovering Scotland’s hidden histories whilst retaining familiarity to The James Plays legacy. Some of those involved in the creation of this  standalone story speak below on the importance of how exploring hidden histories led to spotlighting a unique story.  

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Alyth Ross, Sean Connor, Catriona Faint & Benjamin Osugo in James V: Katherine © Mihaela Bodlovic

So, how do we tell the story of the silenced voices from Scotland’s past? Raw Material producers Gillian Garrity & Margaret-Anne O’Donnell believe that “James V: Katherine while continuing to explore hidden histories with epic themes, addresses a pivotal point in Scotland’s history. Rona Munro has written an intimate, tender and impassioned love story between two young women at a time in their lives when the stakes could not be higher for both them and for Scotland”. Framing a queer love story in a pivotal time for change in Scotland allows a distinct voice to shine through. A voice that explores themes which have only been touched on in the previous James Plays. 

The James plays have shown queer love stories before, in James 2nd and James 3rd, but this time the story is centre stage” says writer Rona Munro. “We will never know what Katherine’s romantic and sexual nature might have been but we do know that there will have been lesbian women living lives like hers in sixteenth century Scotland”. Through this choice Rona explores a “true” history of Scotland and explores very real lives and love stories. Doing so against the backdrop of the reformation cements these themes into the history of Scotland. 

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Rona Munro © Greg Macvean

For the audience, James V: Katherine is a glimpse into an unspoken history of Scotland and thematically an underrepresented area in both history and theatre. Historian Ashley Douglas puts this down to Rona’s ability to “reach into the wrongfully neglected gaps in our telling of Scotland’s history and bring those stories into the mainstream, to those who need to hear them most.” She continues “I am indescribably grateful to Rona for continuing to use the full force of her platform and talents for such selfless good, in finally beginning to share these untold aspects of our past”.  

What it all comes down to is putting on a performance that can convey these ideas and captivate the audience. Capital Theatres CEO Fiona Gibson says “James V: Katherine promises to be a deeply engaging experience that sheds light on the life of a little-known, yet hugely intriguing historical figure.” But beyond this, is the importance of ensuring a uniquely Scottish story can be shared to as broad an audience as possible. “We’re also really excited about the regional tour of James V: Katherine” continues Fiona, “giving audiences across Scotland the opportunity to enjoy what will undoubtably be a very special production”. 

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Co-producers Margaret-Anne O'Donnell, Fiona Gibson and Gillian Garrity © Greg Macvean

Those interested in further exploring the history of James V: Katherine can listen to the Putting it Together podcast on The Hidden Histories of James V: Katherine recorded at The Studio with historian Ashely Douglas and Rona Munro discussing the untold histories of queer communities in Scotland alongside host Brian James O'Sullivan.

James V: Katherine is on now at The Studio until Saturday 20 April, before embarking on a tour of Scottish venues with stops in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Tobermory, Inverness, Dunoon, Dunkeld, St Andrews, Stirling, Peebles and Melrose.  

James V: Katherine

Fri 5 to Sat 20 April 2024