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Stage is set for audience to be at centre of the action

IT is believed to be the first time the audience at the Edinburgh International Festival has been such a part of one of its plays.

action STATIONS: NTS artistic director Laurie Sansom and James Plays writer Rona Munro.
action STATIONS: NTS artistic director Laurie Sansom and James Plays writer Rona Munro.

For the three "James Plays" written by Rona Munro, created by the National Theatre of Scotland (NTS), 100 members of the audience will be in the thick of the action on one of the festival's biggest stages.

Laurie Sansom, the artistic director of the NTS and director of all three plays, said his original plan was for the works to be performed at a theatre "in the round", but when the Festival Theatre was chosen as the venue that proved impossible.

So the bank of seating on stage, built into the set in the style of choir stalls, were created to form a kind of "people's parliament" overlooking the actions of the characters and the courts of James I, II and III of Scotland. The seats are priced at £15 and although the audience members in the seats are never directly part of the action — there is no audience interaction planned in the shows — they will offer a very different view than the rest of the audience.

If those in the bank of seats wish to or have to leave during a performance, an usher will escort them from the stage, and there is a room backstage with a screen to watch the rest of the performance.

The three plays open on August 10. James I: The Key Will Keep The Lock stars James McArdle as James I and Blythe Duff as Isabella, while The Killing star Sophie Grabol takes a lead role in James III.

Mr Sansom said: "It really came about because initially I thought of having this as a theatre in the round. But the way it has developed is that there is this bank of audience who are right in the middle of the action, and who act as a kind of parliament and they are right in the middle of the action."

Sansom said that every rehearsal for the play, including technical rehearsals at Birmingham Rep, had included the stand as a key part of the stage set and the public in those seats will not be disadvantaged by the unusual view.

"It is quite unusual and you will have the most extraordinary vision of the rest of the Festival Theatre audience and those three levels will become your backdrop to the plays," he said. "The audience now becomes part of the play's experience.

"You will also be watching people watching the shows, so it becomes a show in a 'minotaurs pit'.

"We have been rehearsing this so the experience from those seats will still be in 3D. If you cannot see it all, you can see the reaction."

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