Venue: Museum Gardens Multangular Tower
‘4 men, 4 bikes and some pretty extreme Shakespearian adventures’ is how acting troupe The Handlebards describe themselves on their website. Bicycles and Shakespeare are certainly never two elements that I would have clearly pieced together. Yet the Handlebards definitely give the impression that they know how to put on a show.
A Wednesday summer evening drew the Shakespeare-loving people of York to Museum Gardens to see the last performance of these bicycle bards’ The Comedy of Errors: one of Shakespeare’s shortest and most slapstick plays. It was a good choice considering the outdoor setting – at the finish time of 7:30pm the air was just starting to become a little too chill.
This was certainly a performance with accessibility in mind, as the Handlebards used a variety of techniques to appeal to both adults and children. The show opened with a warm-up act involving a series of circus-like tricks (I got the impression that this was mostly aimed at the children to convince them that Shakespeare can indeed be fun). After they had succeeded in getting the crowd roaring with laughter, they bounced into the performance which showed no lack of energy from beginning to end. An innovative display of puppetry was incorporated to set the scene and tell the flashback tale (if you are familiar with the play you will recall that this is the father figure retelling the separation story of his twin sons along with their twin servants). However, this was not traditional puppetry, as an assortment of household and everyday objects (e.g. a tennis racket draped in a scarf, sock puppets, pots and pans and even a boot as a boat) acted to represent the retelling.
Having seen the all-female production of Romeo and Juliet, it was interesting that this was an all-male production. However, as it was not blatantly stated, this did not occur to me until the appearance of the women in the play, who were portrayed by men wrapped in what looked very similar to table-cloths. Pans were also used to convey other aspects of the female body. These small choices added to the charm of the performance which embraced the farcical nature of the script whole-heartedly. The two sets of twins were played by the same actors; admittedly if you were not familiar with the play I could imagine it would cause some confusion, but on another level it also brought the comedy and confusion to an invigorating level.
It is a great shame that this was the last performance of this particular production, as it would certainly be one that I would strongly recommend. Nevertheless, if you do ever get the chance to see these crazed bicycle performers, do not hesitate to attend!