Edinburgh Fringe 2015
If you’re after a reverential, high-brow interpretation of the play, something with beautiful sparkling costumes and graceful fairies, this isn’t for you. Half of the speeches disappear as the audience is completely distracted by the ridiculous antics of the other actors. However, if you’re looking for a completely different take on a Shakespeare play, something fun, enjoyable for all ages, highly accessible and utterly hilarious, make sure you don’t miss this!
Attending a performance by the Handlebards is not like going to any other show at the Fringe. After making the trek out to the Botanic Gardens, one is directed to a wide open lawn where the audience sit with picnics on camp chairs and rugs. A strange set made up of sheets, bicycle parts and camping equipment has been set up, in front of which two young men play traditional music on fiddle and guitar while the four actors bounce around chatting to the audience and each other. On a fortunately fairly dry and warm Edinburgh evening, it’s a beautiful setting for a play like A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
And this is a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream unlike any other. Every role is played by four men, so Helena and Bottom are played by the same actor, Titania and Demetrius by the same actor, Puck and Hermia… you get the point. In the opening scene, and through many scenes of the play, the characters onstage at one time far outnumber the actors. They use this to their advantage however, with actors flinging off one item of costume (which is held by another actor who interacts with the empty jacket or floating hat as if it’s a human being) and dashing across the stage to pull on a different costume and become another character. It’s a very clever way to turn a potentially severe problem with putting on these plays into one of their biggest attributes.
Perhaps the strongest part of this production are the fairies. Each has their own fairy-like movement which they continue constantly while onstage, so they are never still even for a second. Oberon pliés up and down and bounds in a rather camp manner across the stage when saying something grand and impressive; Titania seductively circles her multi-coloured plastic wings with her hands on her hips; and Puck shimmies frantically like a dancing bee, which is a particularly nice contrast with his gruff Cockney voice. The “love in idleness” flower is a small purple umbrella painted on the inside, and it’s “juice” is poured out of a watering can, giving the actors an excellent excuse to soak each other as they got rather carried away with the love potion.
The props and set are very cleverly used. A sheet is set up in the middle for the actors to hide behind when not onstage and to use to get changed, and a rope is set up around this, circling two bicycle wheels at either side. When a bike to the side of this is pedalled, the rope spins round, changing the backdrop as we move from court to forest and back again. It’s an ingenious way of doing this quickly and in an entertaining way, and always keeping the bicycle theme running throughout. The ass’s head which is fixed on Bottom is made of a helmet, with a saddle attached for the nose and two pieces of wheel for ears. When Helena runs away from Hermia she grabs a bike and does an enormous lap around the lawn, screaming as she goes, leaving Hermia looking as “amazed” as she claims to be.
The fighting between the young lovers is also very well executed. We expect some slapstick here and the Handlebards certainly don’t disappoint. Helena clings around Demetrius like a limpet, forcing him to carry her around through most of one scene, and Lysander and Demetrius climb over each other and send each other sprawling to the ground repeatedly in their efforts to get close to Helena and win her love. They even make use of the audience’s picnics, with one of the two young Athenian men running after the other, sending handfuls of Pringles flying at him.
All in all, it’s a truly unique production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from a totally unique company. If you’re after a reverential, high-brow interpretation of the play, something with beautiful sparkling costumes and graceful fairies, this isn’t for you. Half of the speeches disappear as the audience is completely distracted by the ridiculous antics of the other actors. However, if you’re looking for a completely different take on a Shakespeare play, something fun, enjoyable for all ages, highly accessible and utterly hilarious, make sure you don’t miss this!