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REVIEW: Games & Thrones by Playbox Theatre

Games & Thrones is 'loud, lusty and clever'
Games & Thrones is 'loud, lusty and clever'

What a night for the bard. On stage at the RSC the good and the great are having a ball hamming up the to be’s or not to be’s in wisecracking celebration of Will’s 400 birthday. Meanwhile, just up the road, we are being drenched in buckets of blood as Warwick’s Playbox Theatre gets down to the far more serious business of re-imagining Henry VI for the modern age, writes Steve Sutherland.

Smartly titled Games & Thrones with all the gore and intrigue that implies, it’s an ensemble piece in the truest sense. A cast of 34 young actors play some 80 characters, often being bumped off only to rapidly reappear in another guise, usually to be swiftly butchered all over again. If battles and murders are your cup of rosie, this is the play for you.

True the shifting and shedding of personalities can occasionally lead to a bit of head scratching – “Hang on, I thought he’s just had this throat slit!” - but the grim beauty of all this confusion is that it thrillingly brings to life the war of the roses, and the woe and chaos that must have reigned at the time. Families were split by greed and ambition bludgeoned loyalty – this is not stuff for the faint-hearted.

G&T is a masterpiece of orchestrated chaos, all dodgy betrothals and nasty betrayals, but within its broiling mess, several real stand-out performances emerge. Charlie Davis’ York is so convincingly fearsome, it comes as a shock when we weep with him for his slaughtered son. Grace Martin is quite Malificent as Margaret Of Anjou, and even though we have shuddered through her devastating schemes, we are again moved by the way she suffers her wretched downfall.

Joe Deverill-Smith ‘s unenviable task of portraying the hapless, lily-livered King Henry VI is sympathetically rendered, Priya Edwards is an upright, gallant Warwick plus a blustering Jack Cade, and hats off too to Isabella James’ awesomely sinister Hunchback, Richard.

The action is delivered in three parts – Stewart McGill directs Thunder & Smoke, Mary King Revolution and Emily Quash Descent In The Abyss. All three feature spectacular choreography – especially in the battle scenes – and some bloodcurdling effects. The execution of Joan Of Arc is especially chilling.

It’s lusty and loud, and it’s clever too. The employment of Newsnight presenter Evan Davis’ voiceover in the gruesome third act overtly implies that, while the action we witness may be dealing with historical events, the themes and behaviours are regrettably still alive and backstabbing today.

For instance, when Jack Cade’s mob are all too easily woo-ed from one side to another with empty promises and rude insinuations, it isn’t too much of a stretch to see the same brazen forces at work in the current on-going Brexit debacle.

It’s also not too much of stretch to foresee a future Shakespearean celebration at the RSC including a goodly number of this stunning young cast.

When and Where: Games and Thrones (Henry Vl) is on at St Mary’s, Warwick, 19, 20 and 21 May, 7pm (Richard Earl of Warwick ‘The Kingmaker’, who features prominently in the Henry Vl plays, is buried at St Mary’s - so adding a further frisson to this atmospheric production). Tickets are available from the Playbox box office 01926 419555 or online at www.playboxtheatre.com

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