“As You Like It” at the Chelsea Physic Garden

The Handlebards, who tour their shows on their bikes, closed their 2017 tour with characteristic fun and bravado. The female troupe, who this year tackled As You Like It, share a sense of adventure with their male counterparts, who have been spinning out A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The performers create an informal atmosphere of chaos and adlibs that belies their skill and makes for great entertainment.

With only four in each cast – and recall that four couples get married at the end of the AYLI – the Handlebards have to handle the Bard fast and loose. In fact, that’s the strategy and their charm – leading to plenty of invention. Naturally, you’re waiting for them to shout out, “We need a wrestler”, as audience participation is a must. And when it’s this well-handled, even someone as averse to it as me can forgive it. Lots of accents make differentiating the characters jolly; from Lotte Tickner’s lisping Orlando to Jessica Hern’s prim and proper Celia. Lucy Green makes a super Rosalind – with comedy flirtation transformed into a believable teenage Ganymede. Eleanor Dillon-Reams embodies the whole approach. A natural comedian, she excels at a sense of complicity with the crowd.

What impressed most for the women’s final show was their work under difficult conditions. The Chelsea Physic Garden sounds like a great stand-in for the Forest of Arden – it’s certainly somewhere to “willingly waste” time in. But on a flightpath noisier than the Globe or Regent’s Park, it cannot be easy to perform in. Continual drizzle and a cold wind didn’t help, either. And then the fireworks started. Clearly experienced in the unexpected, the cast’s sense of fun an energy never flagged. Using any distractions, while creating their own havoc among the audience’s picnic hampers, is all part of the team’s attraction. Here’s looking forward to them getting back on their bikes in 2018.


Photo by  Rah Petherbridge