Edinburgh Fringe 2017
Four actors and an awful lot of costume changes in the enchanting surroundings of the Royal Botanic Gardens. But bring your wellies and the midge repellent.
To the splendour of the Royal Botanic Gardens for an outdoor performance of Shakespeare’s As You Like It by The Handlebards, the wandering troupe that carts around everything it needs (and a bit more) on the back of a bike. Well, several bikes actually and rather brand-spanking new ones provided by one of their sponsors, by the looks of things.
Two of said bicycles mark the boundaries of their stage and come in useful as the show progresses as fixed points from which to hang bunting and other bits and pieces. Tents of various sizes act as entrances, exits and, on occasion, hidey-holes. And an ascending curtain, of sorts, provides a colourful backdrop from which actors also come and go and peer out from.
This was “The Girls” side of the wandering troupe with a quartet formed of Eleanor Dillon-Reams, Lotte Tickner, Jessica Hern and Lucy Green playing over twenty parts between them with considerable skill and enterprise, even if a couple of hats did disappear quite a distance into the shrubbery during one rather hectic costume change.
The plot is as complicated as most Shakespeare wrote, but it hasn’t changed a lot in the last four centuries, so we’ll concentrate this review on the way in which four high-octane actors can tell a story that normally lasts around three hours in around half that time.
Sticking strictly (well, almost) to the Bard’s original text, their diction was clear as crystal on a difficult night for acoustics (seagulls squawking, traffic rumbling, the obligatory occasional bit of drizzle, people munching on picnics, you get the idea). But rapid fire delivery, galloping scene and costume changes and the clever insertion of musical interludes kept the story moving along and everyone engaged.
Our quartet made great use of the fourth wall as well as stepping through it on regular occasions, bringing the audience right into the action. Hilarious examples included Adam raiding spectators’ picnics for food for him and his master, ravenous after their flight to Arden. Then a couple of strange looking “sheep” repeated the gag and various members of the audience were hauled onto the stage to perform cameos, including the part of Charles, the wrestler, who “fought” Orlando with the pair wearing ridiculous, blow-up boxing gloves.
That’s where the Handlebards score. They stick to the plot and the script but bring out the humour with a wonderful variety of silly props and their clever use of the lesser known roles in Shakespeare plays which, whilst small on words are big on the potential for physical comedy. And we got that by the bucket load through the voluptuous Phoebe. Nothing beats a good bit of innuendo and a dose of slapstick for lightening the mood or breaking the ice. And amusement came from other sources too; the quick character changes on stage effected by having an actor spinning between two costumes held up by a colleague and the confusion caused by having a single actor playing three roles on stage at once (and working in both sexes) being but two examples.
Playing multi-characters in true commedia dell’arte whilst delivering a classic text is a real challenge for any actor and audience reaction at the end confirmed that these four talented young actors had pulled it off in some style. One more show tonight (13th) but they are continuing their UK tour after this and “The Boys” are coming later this month with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Highly recommended viewing.