Live Theatre: the Handlebards are Here!

Kipling Hall. The audience enjoys a picnic ahead of the evening performance.

I’m a bit of a Handlebards groupie.  Handlebards?  Yes, the always effervescently inventive troupe (one male combo of four actors, one female combo of four actors) who cycle the country carrying all they need with them to one-night-only venues, in the grounds of stately homes, museums, city parks to present their season’s Shakespeare play in the open air, come rain, come shine.

I’ve been to five productions now, two male, two female, and one … well, we’ll come to that in a minute.

One night was so wet that players and audience alike took refuge in a castle keepOne evening was bright and sunny, as was another, if a little windy.  Last year was fine until after the  interval.  Then the heavens opened.  We were well-provided with rain gear but got utterly soaked anyway.  The players, their hair plastered to their scalps and water streaming down their faces, their clothes sodden, dripping and rendered translucent by the unremitting downpour played on.  What a team!  We admired their grit, and retired home to peel off every item of sodden clothing (and that included underclothes) and take a hot shower.  The actors camped out on a hard floor, got up the following morning and cycled to their next venue.

Covid 19 put a stop to this year’s plans. No male tour.  No female tour.  The actors didn’t sit around twiddling their thumbs though.  The London-based ones set about organising deliveries of essentials to the vulnerable and shielded. Which was wonderful, but not acting.

Three of the Handlebards share a house:  They’re their very own Social Bubble.  So during the days of Lockdown they hatched a plot to tour a play during August and September, just the three of them: two men, one woman.  They chose Romeo and Juliet.  No problem.  Aside from Romeo and Juliet themselves, they only have to play Mercutio, Benvolio, Capulet, Tybalt, Juliet’s nurse and her mother, Friar Laurence …

These kinds of difficulty never thwart the Handlebards.  Hats and wigs temporarily stand in for characters whose actor is currently multi-tasking.  Props are minimal.  Bicycle pumps for weapons; an aerosol; a hand-painted sun and moon; a repurposed squash-up play tunnel becomes Juliet’s balcony; a couple of military jackets; a length of hessian to stand in for monkish robes; gauzy stuff for Juliet; lengths of red ribbon for blood and guts and they’re pretty much sorted.

The actors change roles, sometimes almost mid sentence.  A Liverpudlian becomes a Scot who becomes someone who has twubble with his ‘r’s.  Romeo and Juliet themselves are played by a man and a woman respectively, but who knew that Juliet’s nurse sports a dapper beard, or her mother blue knee-socks?

We went along to Thursday evening’s performance. It was all tremendously rip-roaring fun, played against the backdrop of the lovely Jacobean Kiplin Hall.  We took chairs, a picnic, and lots of warm clothes, because it was chilly.   As ever, laughter and sheer delight kept us entirely in the moment, so we barely noticed that it started to drizzle, not long before the end.  Thank you Handlebards.  Live theatre is back.

The end of a great evening.

Six Word Saturday

 

36 thoughts on “Live Theatre: the Handlebards are Here!”

  1. This kind of theatre is right up my street…minimalist and fun, impromptu and inventive…. almost like troubadours in the mediaeval times I suppose. Obviously they love what they do… send them to France! 🙂

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    1. They do travel quite a lot in Normal Times (what are those?) but whether France is on their itinerary or not I don’t know. I suspect only anglophone countries need apply 😦

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  2. You know what? That’s just so SUPER VERY BRITISH…. I laughed out loud and I remembered fondly every rain sodden performance in the parks, fields, and greens of every place we watched all the Shakespearian and other outdoor performances during our stay in Devon….. But honestly, WHAT a quality in a people. We were always blown away by their sheer determination to offer something to their public and no running-off make-up nor sticking to the body costumes or wigs sliding from the heads could dampen their spirit and that of their public. I DO MISS ‘THAT’ ENGLAND so much…. Good on you to have been there and enjoyed yourselves.

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    1. Well, not this year, of course. But most summers you can find two or three open air performances at least from these small inventive troupes like the Handlebards.

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  3. Hurray! That does sound fun and I’m glad you got to see them (and glad they got to perform). The soaking wet performance must be great to look back on, but cold-and-underwear-wet is a nasty feeling at the time.

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      1. We like to remember being hailed on (on a previously fine day) towards the end of a long walk and also the central heating breaking down just before Christmas. Great to reminisce about but not ideal at the time.

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  4. I would love to have seen this, Margaret! They are genius, aren’t they? 🙂 🙂 And Kiplin Hall is lovely. We did their snowdrop walk one year.

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  5. Fantastic, absolutely brilliant. Lucky you. One very correct solution to this horrible situation. Outside performance always a gamble with the English weather, but that’s all part of the fun isn’t it?

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  6. What fun! What enterprise! I shall certainly be on the watch for these troupes. Are they usually two separate ones or do they combine even under ‘normal’ circumstances? I’m quite envious of this particular performance, rain or no rain!

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