Cradle King: King James meets Shakespeare in historic John Knox House

An intimate audience with Shakespeare’s patron, King James. Brainy, dream-haunted, theatre crazy, peace loving…he’s the real-life inspiration for Hamlet & Macbeth, but whose ghost might get him first? After a successful Fringe run, Robin Thomson returns to John Knox House at the Scottish Storytelling Centre next week to perform Donald Smith’s raw, virtuoso drama Cradle King.

‘Thomson’s performance is something of a tour de force. In an atmospherically lit upstairs room (which becomes steadily dimmer as the evening wears on), and with only a skull as a co-star, he produces a characterisation rich in humour and pathos.’ ★★★★ (Hugh Simpson, All Edinburgh Theatre)

In 1603 James VI of Scotland also became James I of England and moved to London, returning to Scotland only once in a long reign. Soon after his arrival in England, James became the patron of Shakespeare’s theatre company ‘The King’s Men’, who had previously toured to Scotland, performing under the patronage of James at Holyrood and in a specially constructed theatre just across from John Knox House in the Netherbow. James remained throughout his life a passionate patron and practitioner of the arts, particularly literature and theatre. The King James Bible stands alongside Shakespeare as a supreme achievement of English Literature.

Although a successful ruler by the standards of his time, James never emotionally outgrew the horrors of his troubled childhood. Having survived an assassination attempt in his mother’s womb, the infant James was later to learn of his father’s murder, in which Mary Queen of Scots, his mother, was (falsely) accused of being complicit. His mother’s subsequent imprisonment, deposition and exile left James at the mercy of the Scottish nobility.

James was bisexual and his close teenage friendship with his older cousin Esmée Stuart was brutally broken up by a jealous court. He married the Danish Princess Anne, also mad about theatre. They spent their honeymoon at Hamlet’s Castle in Elsinore, and Shakespeare’s subsequent choice of this story is highly relevant to James. However, despite raising a large family of future kings and queens, marriage brought James more strife and unease. In his old age, he seemed an isolated, almost Lear-like figure.

Timed to coincide with the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, this production of Cradle King is accompanied by Sandy Andrew Carr’s current exhibition On Stage, a wholly Scottish response to Shakespeare400 which traces the history and background of theatre at this time, and each performance will be followed by a short discussion and tour.

Cradle King will be performed in John Knox House from Tue 15 – Fri 18 November, with Tuesdays’ matinee performance held in the George Mackay Brown Library, which is an accessible space for those with mobility issues.

1.30pm (Tue 15 Nov only) & 7.30pm (Wed-Fri) (1hr 30), £10, (£8)

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