Ah, how idyllic … Bolton Castle in Wensleydale. Perfect for a summer’s day out.
Not if you were Mary Queen of Scots though. She spent six months imprisoned here in 1568. Although even that incarceration was relative. She was attended by 30 of her household, which included knights, servants, ladies-in-waiting, cooks, grooms, a hairdresser, an embroiderer, an apothecary, a physician and a surgeon. The remaining 20 or so lodged in the nearby village of Castle Bolton. She went hunting. She had her hair done. She learnt English, since up to this point she could speak only Scots, French and Latin.
This is the scenery near Leyburn in Wensleydale. This is Bolton Castle.
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.
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.
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.