The HandleBards. No, really
If you have a chance to see these dangerous lunatics*, I mean, this exceptionally talented and engaging AND ENERGETIC troupe of young men, do climb into or onto your internal combustion engine vehicle of choice, bring along a large picnic hamper of high-calorie comestibles and, if you’re sensible, a bottle of fizz, and several blankets because this is England after all**, and possibly folding chairs, if you’re ancient and decrepit***, and GO. The HandleBards are a hoot.
Admetus and I went last night. I admit I was not instantly overwhelmed with desire to see four men doing the stripped-down bicycle [sic] version of Shakespeare, since it sounds like a dumb-ass idea and I am not a Shakespeare fan, but I watched a few clips on YouTube, as above, and . . . well, I am rather drawn to insanity. I still can’t get my head around the 2000 miles on a bicycle thing, carrying all your kit, from show to show, plus setting up, doing your play at a hundred million miles an hour of adrenaline-cranked frenzy, striking it all down again, getting some food and sleep and then doing it all over again tomorrow, but then I am ancient and decrepit.†
What we saw last night was Midsummer Night’s Dream††. Now you go knowing that there are only four of them and they play ALL the parts. But I still spent the first scene with fathers, lovers, Theseuses and other riffraff milling about not having a clue what was going on, except that some of the people who were supposed to be on stage were being indicated by empty coats on poles which the four, you know, live actors would swirl into and back out of in a hurly-burly of something or other AND AFTER THEY’D CYCLED HALF A GAZILLION MILES EARLIER THAT DAY? Beulah, peel me a grape.
You do tune in pretty quickly to the mayhem. They also pad out a few scenes by shanghaiing members of the audience††† The two additional blokes cavorting in rainbow wings as Peaseblossom and Mustardseed deserve special mention and will probably never live it down. Since all I had was a blanket to keep me warm I was particularly taken with the armful of borrowed dog, bewildered but good-natured. The tallest and the shortest of the four principals were also the two with the facial hair . . . and who played Hermia and Helena, so they can get off the dwarf and painted maypole‡ lines.
You also start laughing before the show even starts. The ‘stage’ is mostly pegged-out bunting, but they do have a proscenium with arch equivalent, which must be their heaviest piece of kit. From audience-eye view it looks like a lot of long spidery legs with joints for folding up bicycle-pannier-sized‡‡ and a kind of mobile circular rail suspended above the not-much-bigger-than-handkerchief-sized curtain that gives them somewhere to hide not-that-scene’s bits, and behind which some of the split-second costume and character changes occur. They hang some of the scene-specific background bits on the rail—heraldic looking banners for Theseus, village-amateur props for the rude mechanicals. Someone pins or drapes that scene’s background to the stretch of rail at that moment behind the curtain . . . but the rail is connected to one of the long-suffering bicycles, and one of the longer-suffering bicyclists pedals the rail around, so the new scene background comes whizzing out from behind the curtain.‡‡‡ Snork.
It may take you a little while, somewhat stunned by the energy level as you will be, also to tune into the fact that these guys are not merely corybantic fruit loops but good at what they do.§ When they decide that 2000 miles on a bicycle carrying the complete works of Shakespeare is a bit excessive§§ I hope they’ll go on to be famous actors. §§§ They’ll deserve it in several more than the usual hard graft and working up from the Bottom ways. May their tyres never puncture and the weather maintain a little fair patch hovering over them wherever they go. It was perfect last night. Only one blanket required.
* * *
* Wrong country? The UK is a great place for a holiday! We have Stonehenge! We have the British Museum! We have skylarks! We have lots and lots of rosebushes! And we have more method ringing bell towers than in the entire rest of the world combined!^
^ Although you’ll probably need to take a rather long holiday to learn how to ring while you’re here.
** And, speaking of England, an umbrella, or possibly a tent
*** Or perhaps might be distracted by wondering what you’re sitting on. You know, ON. Even before I lived in town with three dogs I used to be a trifle wary about sitting on bare ground . . . although pre-three-dogs-in-town this was mainly because it was likely to be damp. A few weeks ago the hellterror and I rounded the corner from the main street into the churchyard and found a large number of serious walkers^ bestrewn about the grassy triangle you come to first. The same grassy triangle that every dog within miles rushes to with little whimpers of joy on sight—including mine.^^ Not all of whose owners are as pathologically over-supplied with plastic bags and paranoia as I am. And damp may come from a variety of sources. I hope when the walkers arose from their respite no one was too . . . unhappy.
^ Not a pair of All Stars in sight and I’m sure denim jeans and cotton socks are anathema. Proper hiking boots with proper hiking socks turned down at the tops and Nordic walking sticks and proper breathable sport clothing and the whole ninety-seven yards.+ Scary.
+ Or 88.69 metres.
^^ The hellterror on this occasion was bemused. She was willing to be generous, however, since people usually mean petting+ and furthermore, full length upon the sward they are at her level.
+ There is always someone(s) who goes ewwwww bull terrier VICIOUS FIGHTING DOG it’s in the GENES don’t tell me they can EVER BE TRUSTED they’ll RIP YOUR THROAT OUT in your sleep but there are fewer of these than I feared when I took delivery of my little shovel-headed# badger-faced bedspring-legged bundle of mania## getting on for three years ago.
# While shovel-headed is the term of endearment I’m accustomed to, the unique bullie profile is more, I feel, trowel-headed: those wide trowels for planting rather than the narrow ones for weeding. Or possibly pooper-scooper headed.
##Maybe the HandleBards should get their own bull terrier.
† Even if I do hurtle many miles every day in pursuit of the members of the hellmob. I have tough, case-hardened feet. But 2000 miles on a BICYCLE SEAT?
†† From our CHAIRS. Admetus has FOLDING CHAIRS. Folding chair technology has come a long way since my last attempt, specially imported from Maine with the eighty cartons of books when I arrived on these shores, and which I think died in the shrubbery somewhere at the old house.
††† If you go I recommend you do not go too early nor sit in the front row.
‡ I have always been fond of the painted maypole. I’d forgotten that the canker-blossom, always a good sound Shakespearean insult, had come from this scene.
‡‡ I’m assuming the spider legs fold, and the bicyclists don’t also have to bolt them together every night.
‡‡‡ If you’re hopelessly confused, watch the proscenium set up in the YouTube clips. I don’t think you see the rail moving, but you can see the hitched-up bicycle
§ And while the four on show are the only ones who climb on the bicycles the directors and adaptors and whoever else back at base are brilliant at what they do too. The cut down, ridiculousnessed-up version really works. I was surprised at the amount of physical slapstick and roughhousing: given the whole bicycle thing I would have thought—even allowing for the fact that this is a young man’s^ game—that they’d need to be a little careful of the bruises. Nobody is so flawlessly accurate about at-speed contact work that there won’t be any. But they freely grapple and throw each other around and fall melodramatically to the ground. I hope they’re taking their vitamins. And arnica for bruises.
^ I can’t help but hope that one of the personnel changes some day will include an insane young woman willing to engage with the imprudence and balderdash and 2000 miles on a bicycle seat.
§§ There have already been some personnel changes as you will see if you work through all the clips.
§§§ Peter and I went to a very beautiful, very grand garden today—one of the private-gardens-open-to-the-public-for-charity that are so popular over here. It was huge, with wild bits and orchards and meadow and views of the surrounding, and then nearer the (grand) house, clipped-hedge-differentiated ‘rooms’ of glorious flower borders, professionally designed and meticulously kept.^ And it really was beautiful . . . but it was also rather too gorgeous and definitely too relentlessly primped and weeded, although this may just be my guilty conscience about my tiny nettle-infested patch.^^ But . . . the HandleBards are better value.^^^
^ And tea with cake.
^^ Although my roses are fabulous.
^^^ And I don’t know if it’s a venue by venue thing or a head office thing but they could be a lot better advertised. So look them up and go if they’re anywhere near you, okay? And pass it on.
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