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Once More Into The Breech, Dear Pawns?

Yesterday I ventured over to the Southwark Playhouse to see Henry V. It was like Shakespeare meets board game meets indoor sports match meets modern dance.

The script seemed as if it was entirely Shakespeare's original work, but shortened to reduce the play to 90 minutes. It opened with the chorus getting out and setting up a board game during the opening lines before the lights dropped and the stage had become a life size version with the counters replaced by the cast. The giant dice was then used between the scenes to indicate the moment of the game.

The cast were dressed in sports kit with red bibs for the English, blue for the French and Yellow for the Chorus, and used water pistols for the fight scenes, which emphasized the game side of things. The bibs also meant the cast could easily represent different characters in different scenes, as they generally had the characters names on.

A lot of the action was performed through dance, with game style props. Some of the best examples include the cast acting out the cannons attacking Harfleur using a softball against and knocking down a wall of plastic boxes, or the main battle scene which saw them sending red and blue skittles flying all over the place.

In shortening the play they removed much of the historical context to make it more applicable as a question of modern conflict. This came across most strongly in the scene where King Henry talks with the soldiers in the camp before the battle, which just emphasises the idea that the soldiers are just the king's pawns in a game of war.

All in all it was a very good adaptation, which strongly questioned the rights of politicians to play games with people's lives in order to demonstrate their own power to each other, which most conflicts basically boil down to regardless of whatever moral justification they give them.

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