Tag Archives: The HandleBards

“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

The HandleBards 5th Year Anniversary

To celebrate five years of taking to their bikes to tour Shakespeare, this young company performed its potted version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Rotherhithe’s Brunel Museum. The spirit of fun adventure runs alongside the serious idea of environmentally sustainable theatre which has won them awards. And if you think cycling around with all your kit to put on plays is bonkers – I am sure that they would, amiably, agree with you.

The production is a bit mad, too. Having only four performers is a short cut to laughs. Cycling bells are the cue for characters changing and, you’ve guessed it, audience members are recruited. It’s all out for jolly japes and the company of friends works with a Boys’ Own spirit. Founder members Callum Brodie and Tom Dixon are especially assured, the former stealing the show as both Puck and Hermia. Calum Hughes-McIntosh and Matthew Seager also have experience with the company and it shows – both doing well with improvisation and crowd control. There’s a technical virtuosity that belies the casual feel here, and it’s an understandable flaw if the chaos is too contrived.

There’s no sign that all the cycling has tired anyone out – 12 countries, on three continents, performing to more than 50,000 people over the years – physicality is shown off at any opportunity. There’s now an all-female troupe on the road as well (I’d love to see how they might change The Chap atmosphere), and As You Like It is touring in, ahem, tandem. Comedy to the fore, and all that open air, is clearly working wonders. And good luck to them.

The HandleBards current tour runs through to September 2017


Photo by Danford Showan