Breakthrough role in smash hit plays

Cameron Barnes in James 1.
Cameron Barnes in James 1.

Described as a landmark of Scottish drama, a cycle of three history plays has been playing to sold-out houses and earning standing ovations at this year’s Edinburgh International Festival.

And right in the thick of it is Methil’s own Cameron Barnes with what is set to be the breakthrough role of his career.

The ‘James Plays’ trilogy blends history with drama to bring to life three generations of Stewart kings who ruled Scotland in the 15th century and, premiered on the eve of the referendum, weaves in timely explorations of themes such as Scottish identity, culture and nationhood.

Actually 24-year-old Cameron has not one but several roles in the plays, from a wild and defiant son plotting treason to a cowl-clad chorister, as part of a remarkable 20-strong ensemble which includes the best of the Scottish acting world and others such as Danish actor Sofie Grabol, who starred as Detective Sarah Lund in the hit Scandinavian crime thriller The Killing,

Possibly better known locally for his musical skills as a champion piper, playing with the Red Hot Chilli Pipers and singer with his band Break the Butterfly, Cameron has previous acting experience from touring with the equally successful Black Watch play.

However, his musical talents are also to the fore in the James Plays - it is his powerful voice that sings out as he takes centre stage and sets the brooding atmosphere at the opening of the first play, James I: The Key Will Keep the Lock.

It is his supporting role in the first play, as the violent ‘Big James’ Stewart refusing to bow to the rule of the newly-returned King James I from captivity in England, that thrusts him into the spotlight. His appearance is as impressive as his performance, with one review describing him as “an Edinburgh tattoo all of his own”, referencing the ‘tattoos’ which require two hours in make up before the play.

When he auditioned back in January, he did not think he had landed it - it was only later that he was told they already wanted him for the part and did not audition anyone else.

“When I saw the cast list I realised how big it was going to be, with all the biggest names in Scottish acting,” Cameron said between performances last week.

There then followed 17 weeks of intense rehearsals that bonded the cast together like a big close-knit family, which had been a bit of a culture shock for Sofie Grabol, Queen Margaret in James III: The True Mirror, who said she had immediately loved the script but had ‘heard’ the voices in ‘English’ accents as she read it - when she joined the rest of the cast she was taken aback at hearing the words spoken for the first time with Scottish accents.

“Sofie is great and we have a good laugh but sometimes she just has to stop me talking and says she can’t understand what I’m saying,” Cameron said.

Having no trouble understanding him, however, are friends and family who have been to see the plays at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre.

“It’s been brilliant that the plays opened in Edinburgh and that my mum and dad were able to come and see me,” he said.