Henry V invades France, via New York

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"Welcome aboard brave soldiers of King Henry the Fifth. Let's show the French how to war!"

The booming Shakesperean voice on the ferry's loudspeakers tells spectators to prepare to invade France, but in reality they will be crossing New York Harbor and landing on Governors Island.

The "invasion" carries actors with the New York Classical Theatre along with their audience from "England" (Manhattan) to the island in this free production of William Shakespeare's "Henry V."

By the end of the month the king and his soldiers will have invaded "France" 12 times, each time performing to capacity crowds.

Once on Governors Island the spectators follow soldiers from both sides until they clash in a theatrical recreation of the 1415 battle of Agincourt, in which Henry's outnumbered troops defeat a larger French force.

"I'm always trying to find ways for the audience to get more involved in the play and become more part of the action," director Stephen Burdman told AFP.

As in many of Shakespeare's plays, "we have to imagine the armies, the multitude of people. To sail in boat across the sea."

But here, "actually, we do that! In this play the audience has become the center of the action," Burdman said.

Justin Blanchard, who plays the king, said that a normal production of "Henry V" is challenging enough.

"But on top of it we decided to make our job twice as hard and give us this incredible journey from Battery Park (in lower Manhattan) to Governors Island, ferrying the audience on a boat and back," he said.

Six hundred people have been coming out every night for the event, Blanchard said, with tickets being snapped up in 30 minutes. "It's an extraordinary success for the company. The interaction, the energy in the story is very exciting," he said.

Shakespeare plays are all the rage in New York this summer. Performances include the ever-popular "Shakespeare in the Park" free series in Central Park, and presentations by the London Royal Shakespeare Company, in town through early August.

© 2011 AFP

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