Henry the Fifth

Adapted from Shakespeare's Henry V by Ignace Cornelissen
Theater Gruene Sosse
the egg, Bath Theatre Royal
(2010)

Production photo

This spring Bath Theatre Royal's acclaimed space for youth theatre, the egg, stages the 'Shakespeare Unplugged' festival, playing host to a wide variety of international companies, each of which revisits Shakespeare in a contemporary way, throwing his work open to a younger audience.

Henry the Fifth is Belgian playwright Ignace Cornelissen's adaptation of Henry V, not naturally a tale that lends itself to an 8+ audience. Performed here by the German company Theater Grüne Sosse (Green Sauce), it takes as its central premise the idea that "All children play war". This is not so much an earnest adaptation, more a playful romp through the original, but as a very early introduction to the Histories, it works remarkably well.

The design is set is a simple arena, roped off and reminiscent of a boxing ring. Pride of place in the centre of the arena is an elaborate sandcastle. This, we are told by a narrator (Sigi Herold), is France, which we soon learn is much coveted by the petulant and impulsive young King Henry (Willy Combecher).

The sandcastle is inevitably destroyed during the course of the war that ensues but it is a device which makes sense to its target audience: all children can empathise with the painful demolition of a sand castle. How many childhood battles have been played out over just such a destruction?

With the simplest of story-telling, this most uncluttered, stripped-bare adaptation of this complex history not only makes Henry the Fifth utterly accessible for a young audience, but also entirely captivating. As Henry makes his play for Princess Katherine (Friederike Schreiber), he tells the audience, "I want Katherine I want the people of France to like me", which must rank among the least sophisticated adaptations of a Shakespearean soliloquy, but it does the trick.

In fact, for the adolescent members of the audience, among whom it was very well received, it served as something akin to theatrical crib notes; a place to play around with the real thing. And naturally the evening is spiced up with enough sword fights, slapstick and general hijinx to keep a young audience enthralled throughout.

Runs at the egg until Saturday 27th February

Reviewer: Allison Vale