The multi-tasking Handlebards

This is the scenery near Leyburn in Wensleydale. This is Bolton Castle.

Bolton Castle, Wensleydale.

Imagine sitting in the grounds of this 14th century castle as evening draws in, a picnic beside you, to watch The Handlebards’ version of Shakespeare’s  ‘As You Like It’.  You know this will be no ordinary performance.  The Handlebards are four female actors who cycle the length and breadth of the kingdom, with all they need for the tour crammed into two bicycle carriers. At each performance, they take every part in Shakespeare’s comedy of bizarre mistaken identity, family breakdown, love and lust.

So far so good.  But this is England in July.  We’d had two days of almost incessant rain.  In a downpour, the Handlebards cycled the 26 (mainly uphill) miles from Ripon, where they’d performed at the Workhouse Museum.

The Castle has a Great Hall.  Performing here rather than on a soggy greensward seemed a better idea in the circumstances.  And it was.  During the evening it rained.  And then rained again.  The audience never noticed a thing.  We were too busy admiring the way four women became twenty or more people.

A simple, but infinitely adaptable stage set.

To become a man, all they had to do was don a codpiece adorned with a tennis or cricket ball.  A selection of hats served to distinguish one character from another.  Bicycle handlebars identified the wearers as sheep. Your character needs to disappear stage right to enter stage left as someone else?  Easy.  Leave the person whom you were addressing in charge of your hat, and s/he will continue to talk to it.  With the flourish of a stick, a youth became faithful, ancient Adam.  Orlando and his family were all twoubled by an inability to pwonounce the letter ‘r’.  And so it went on, as one inventive twist or piece of slapstick followed another.  Shakespeare would have loved it.

This is the only photo I have of the Handlebards, and it’s out of focus at that. They take a bow as we give them a more than enthusiastic standing ovation.

I’m now a Handlebards groupie.  And the fun doesn’t end here.  In other venues, having travelled there on other bicycles, a troupe of male actors is giving similarly irreverent treatment to ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.  We’re on the mailing list.

The rain let up a bit in the interval. Here’s the view.

28 thoughts on “The multi-tasking Handlebards”

    1. Your favourite cheese certainly comes from the area. You’ll have to make a pilgrimage: though apart from Constable Burton, there aren’t many gardens to tempt you.

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  1. What a whimsical idea for a performance and a dry sense of humor, even for the rain….. and a fantastic venue. Summer is a state of mind I suppose and it takes a bit of creativeness to weather the storm. Love the name of the group – I agree Shakespeare would approve. Have a terrific Tuesday.

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  2. This does sound like a lot of irresistible and inventive fun. The mistaken identities must have been most convincing. I am not surprised you are a Handlebards groupie! The last photo is stunning – the angle of the wall sets off the angles of the lines of clouds most perfectly.

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  3. What total fun! Think of how much fun they must’ve had coming up with all those bits of stage business, to allow them to pull this off–amazing! Have you been to Minack Theatre in Cornwall–wouldn’t it be great to see them there??

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    1. Yes it would. Funnily enough I got talking to a woman in the interval who loves the Minack. I’ve not been there – yet – but it seems you have. How well travelled you are!

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