Pedalling their act across countries

UK-based travelling theatre company The HandleBards’ all-girl team is set to perform a funny take on Romeo and Juliet. All the props, costumes, etc. required will be brought atop a bicycle!
Pedalling their act across countries
A still from a previous performance; The all-girl ensemble


The HandleBards is a UK-based group of travelling actors who carry all the set, props and costume needed on bicycles — to perform energetic, ‘seriously silly’ and environmentally sustainable Shakespeare plays across the globe. They specialise in outdoor performances but more than a venue is their love for theatre. For the first time in Chennai, the troupe’s all-girl quartette is staging a riotous version of Romeo and Juliet with a “fair old whack of chaos and a great deal of laughter.” In this interview with DTNext, they tell us more about their cycling theatre company, why they chose Shakespearean plays and more.
What sparked the idea to begin a theatre production company which takes shows on the back of a bike?
We were four friends who wanted to perform Shakespeare, have an adventure and do it all as sustainably as possible. Cycling seemed like the most environmentally friendly way of getting about the country and also much more adventurous and challenging than driving everywhere.
Why did you choose to adapt Shakespeare’s plays as opposed to creating original content?
To us, Shakespeare is better enjoyed when it is treated as a shared experience with an audience; we want an audience member to be fully immersed in our story, but we never want them to forget that we are just four story tellers, and that we can laugh when things go wrong. This way, the team gets to engage with people face-to-face. So, we’ll come out into the crowd, we will address the viewers directly and we will sometimes pull people up on stage — there is definitely not a forth wall for us!
How your adaptation of Romeo and Juliet differs from the ones staged before?
FYI, we are performing the original play, speaking the original Elizabethan language. However, we have cut the script down so that the show is 90 minutes rather than 3 1/2 hours but we remain true to the text and the language — with the occasional ad libs here and there. Speaking of the story, everyone knows Romeo and Juliet are young members of two feuding families, who fall in love, despite all the odds but then tragedy strikes. Where we differ is that we decided to turn the play on its head and deliver this timeless tragedy as a very silly comedy.
What can Chennai audience expect from your upcoming performance?
Our shows are performed by four actors who play all the parts, providing musical accompaniment and sing-and-dance. So there is a very fast paced, high-octane frantic energy about the show from the minute it starts. We have live music throughout and will be using an ukulele, a glockenspiel and our voices. 
We usually perform outdoors during the summer in the UK and then, the lighting is just the sunlight — we’ll keep lighting just as simple when we’re in theatres too. Props are a BIG part of our show (just wait until you see Juliet’s balcony) but they have to stay small so that they can fit into our bicycle trailers, hence, audiences can expect ingenuity. The movement is erratic and we’d suggest people don’t blink or they’ll miss a scene! If you like your Shakespeare served with clowning, singing, and laughing this is definitely the play for you. 
To catch The HandleBards in action, visit Rani Seethai Hall, 603, 1st Floor, Anna Salai on October 2 between 7 and 9 pm.

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