The HandleBards must be up there with the most travelled companies at the Fringe this year. The company’s two troupes, one male and one female, cycle the length of the country, carrying their props, set, instruments and more as they go, performing a Shakespeare play outdoors and with only four actors. Not only is this enormously impressive but it presents a great environmentally-friendly answer to the costs incurred by much theatrical touring.
‘This is how Shakespeare should be done at the Fringe’
Last year I saw the men perform Much Ado About Nothing and this time, it’s the turn of the women. They bring As You Like It to raucous, vivid and moving life in the beautiful outdoor setting of Edinburgh’s Botanic Gardens, which overlooks the entire city. If ever there was a play to be performed by all-female Shakespeare troupe (and frankly these girls should just do the whole lot right now) then it’s probably As You Like It, which not only boasts two of the best female characters in the canon but also features an epic epilogue from protagonist Rosalind which almost had me punching the air in delight when delivered with the strong, feminist overtones by this company.
Similarly to the Reduced Shakespeare Company, the HandleBards are masters of physical differentiation between their various characters and self-consciously acknowledge the impossible feat of playing two or three characters onstage at once, with often hysterical results. They also used their audience remarkably well, with a particular highlight being when two of the actors, playing sheep, wandered through the audience bleating and stealing as much food and drink as they could. They also have a refreshing blend of affection and irreverence for Shakespeare’s text, with a prime example being Jaques’s famous ‘all the world’s a stage’ speech, which was delivered impeccably by Lotte Tickner and punctuated with ‘woahs’ from the two hippies onstage, at the supposed deepness of Jaques’s philosophic platitudes.
All four actresses were wonderful, delivering a vast range of absurd performances that often felt like Shakespeare via Blackadder and Monty Python. Perhaps the standout was the aforementioned Tickner, who embodied the heightened masculinity of Orlando excellently and also delivered her lines by making a ‘w’ sound whenever she said an ‘r’, therefore calling her beloved ‘Wosalind’, something which never stopped being funny throughout. Her fellow actresses displayed equal levels of virtuosity, playing every instrument under the sun and leading the audience in a sing-a-long to close the show.
This is how Shakespeare should be done at the Fringe: with your tongue planted firmly in your cheek, a free and unrestricted approach to the text and the audience made to feel part of the action itself. If you can make your way out to the Botanic Gardens and frankly, after the feats of the company to get here, you’ve got no excuse, then be sure to catch the female HandleBards before they leave on the 13th or their male counterparts, who’ll be up with A Midsummer Night’s Dream later in the fringe.
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh – West Gate, 9th – 13th August, 18:45
Image: Outline Magazine