REVIEW: The HandleBards: As You Like It

 By Isabella Fraser

A delightful and mad-cap romp through Shakespeare’s cross-dressing comedy, the four-strong (female) part of the HandleBards troupe brings the perfect mix of tongue-in-cheek and pathos to this familiar tale. 

Outdoor theatre is always a risk in Scotland but the HandleBards have picked a perfect spot on the hill in the Royal Botanic Gardens. Relatively sheltered, with a delightful view over the city, the troupe set out their wares using a simple but effective backdrop. The audience can bring picnics to sustain themselves through the show and this is used with great aplomb by the HandleBards. The troupe effortlessly weave in, around and through the seated crowd to engage – and sometimes cheekily purloin from – their spectators.

The use of tennis balls on straps to indicate male characters, and the ding of a bicycle bell to indicate a change of character are simple, but well used and the changeovers are funny. The audience is part of the set and engages willingly; smiles beam out as families – and strangers – cheer on the new role players. When things go awry, it is handled in such a charming manner that there is almost a wish for more of that, such is the humour that trips fluently through the ad libs.

What is to the fore in this production is the ease with which the slapstick tells the story. For anyone afraid of Shakespeare, this is the show for you. While the language is used and played beautifully, the HandleBards also manage to wring every last drop of shtick possible from the script through their use of physicality, enabling a clear and entertaining portrayal of the play.

The HandleBard troupes – there are separate male and female troupes – cycle around the UK, putting on shows with only what they can bring with them on their bikes. This is an amazing feat and it is to their credit that they create a delightful world for their audience with very little. Be brave, venture outdoors and bring a picnic with you to see this show – you will not regret it. 

 The HandleBards: As You Like It runs @ 18.45 @ the Royal Botanic Gardens, West Gate until 13/08/17; The HandleBards: A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs @ 18:45 @ The Botanic Gardens from 22/08/17-26/08/17. Both shows – running time I hour 45 mins. 

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