By Danielle Farrow
The Handlebards tour on bicycles and create their set, costume accessories and props only from items that are genuinely part of bikes or camping, and use only electric power generated by the bikes. This year they present Secret Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hamlet the latter as a farce.
And this is, indeed, a very funny Hamlet: in the fine outdoor surroundings of the Botanic Garden, four actors portray twenty-three characters with verve, wit and a variety of facial and body contortions. Tom Dixon is particularly adept at connection and at changing physically and vocally, Matthew Seager somehow brings a hint of dignity to his perpetually drinking Gertrude, Calum Hughes-McIntosh holds concentrated focus as Hamlet and Callum Brodie’s intention and understanding shines through his various characters. There is fun in direction in the use of bikes, props and mechanisms, with backgrounds and even the Ghost of Hamlet’s father on occasion being manipulated by a gears and pulley system powered in the show by bike pedalling.
Quick flips in delivery, little surprises in props and action, and much playing with actors performing multi-roles, along with the use of members of the audience – well handled – keep this comic Hamlet rolling along with real amusement, and – for the most part – at the pace required for a farce. Last year, in both Comedy of Errors and Macbeth, there was a degree of connected performance that allowed moments of true emotion in among the hilarity, and it would have been nice to see the same again – particularly with a play of Hamlet’s depth – but there was only a glimmer of this in Ophelia’s madness. Hamlet’s ‘acting mad’, which basically consisted of some thrusting of limbs from the time of deciding to act mad until pretty much the end of the play, regardless of whether or not this was apt, lacked imagination. The famous soliloquies, rather than bringing depth or being explored with some connected humour – as was, scatalogically, achieved when Claudius attempts to pray – were left hanging empty while physical slapstick tried to distract from this lack of connection, meaning that – this year – there was no contrast of drama to heighten the comedy further.
Overall, though, The Handlebards: Hamlet is very entertaining and well-led by the versatility of the two who are the more experienced within this particular troupe. A fun show!