RONA Munro’s ambitious project to dramatise the reigns of all the Scottish kings named James now stands one tantalising step away from James VI of Scotland and I of England.

Theatre lovers wait with some anticipation to see what the Scots ­dramatist will make of the life of the man who was, arguably, the pivotal monarch in the ­making of the British state.

However, there should be interest enough in the relatively short, but eventful, tenure of James V. Crowned when he was just 17 months old, James assumed power in 1528 at the age of 15.

Inheriting a country riven by conflicting ­loyalties to Roman Catholicism and France on the one hand and Henry VIII’s newly ­Anglican-Protestant England on the other, James sided with the Church of Rome. One of the first acts of his ascendancy was the burning at the stake for heresy of the young Protestant reformer Patrick Hamilton.

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It is on the eve of that momentous event that Munro begins this short studio play. ­Hamilton – played with an intelligent combination of ­terror and religious fervour by Benjamin ­Osugo – discusses with his sister Katherine (Catriona Faint) the strategic purpose of his impending martyrdom.

Katherine’s own dedication to Lutheranism has brought her to the attention of the ­Catholic authorities (which, Patrick Hamilton having already been executed, are represented by the versatile Osugo). Thus far, Munro’s imaginings – as that of a private conversation between James V and Katherine later in the play – are rooted firmly in recorded history.

It is in the other narrative strand – Katherine’s love affair with an illiterate minor noblewoman called Jenny (Alyth Ross) – that the playwright indulges in a more fictional ­construction. Entirely plausible though secret lesbianism in the upper echelons of ­16th-century Scottish society is, one is entitled to ask whether Munro manages to square Katherine’s imagined homosexuality with her dangerous ­religious commitment.

The National:

If the characterisation of the female ­protagonist is dubious, the representation of James himself is even more problematic. Cast as a thuggish intimidator, the King is ­ represented (in an attempt, one assumes, to achieve that modish theatrical objective ­“relatability”) as a latter-day, Scottish, ­working-class hardman.

Whether the choice of this off-the-peg ­caricature is down to Munro or ­director Orla O’Loughlin, or a combination of both, we may never know. In any case, it is a lazy ­characterisation that does the play’s ­historical reflection a serious disservice. Posh, ­erudite ­barbarians abound in drama, from ­Shakespeare’s Coriolanus to Harold Pinter’s One For The Road. One can’t help but wish that this James V was another.

The National:

The romantic plotline suffers more through casting than characterisation. While Ross is emotionally compelling as Jenny (driven, not by theology, but her passionate, honest love for her woman), Faint’s Katherine is brittle and lacking in the necessary warmth and intensity.

The piece is designed smartly (to encompass the time between 1528 and today) by Becky Minto. Co-produced by Raw Material and ­Capital Theatres, it has an extensive tour of Scotland ahead of it.

At The Studio, Edinburgh until April 20, then touring until June 1.