Edinburgh Fringe 2018
Four actors and an awful lot of costume changes in the “outdoor / indoor” surroundings of the Assembly George Square Gardens Tree House. But bring a blanket – this is summer, in Scotland.
Outdoor Shakespeare in Scotland means braving the cold and the rain. And that’s in the height of summer. But at least the Assembly Tree House has a canopy to keep the persistent drizzle off both performers and audience for this wonderfully silly “outdoor” version of Romeo and Juliet 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 it looks like brand-spanking new ones again this year, courtesy of one of their sponsors.
One of the said bicycles helps mark the boundary of the stage with a complex backdrop of brightly coloured material containing three doors and some interesting apertures (through which a variety of actors poke their heads from time to time), completing the set. But what makes this show is the props and the ingenuity and variety on display here was quite remarkable. And, remember, it all has to fold away so they can tow it behind their bikes when they trundle off to their next venue.
This was “The Girls” side of the wandering troupe with the quartet of Charlotte Driessler, Eleanor Chaganis, Lucy Green, and Sian Eleanor Green playing over twenty parts between them with considerable skill and enterprise, especially given a couple of props and costumes gave up the ghost in some unscheduled moments during this frantic ninety minutes of galloping iambic pentameter and silly moustaches.
The R&J plot is as complicated as most Shakespeare wrote, but it hasn’t changed a lot in the last four centuries, so let’s concentrate on the way in which four high-octane actors can turn a story that normally ends in tears to one that ends with a jolly sing song and a member of the audience doubling up as both Romeo and Juliet, dead on stage.
Sticking strictly (well, almost) to the Bard’s original text, their diction was clear as crystal on a difficult afternoon for acoustics (sound leakage from other on-site venues, traffic rumbling, the patter of rain on roof, people munching on lunch, 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. And there was a very clever, running improv gag involving a handsome young audience member who had been daft enough to park himself on the front row.
The Handlebards success is down to sticking to the plot but extracting humour where you might least expect it with a combination of silly props and clever physical theatre. They also use the lesser known roles in Shakespeare plays which, whilst short on words are long on comedic potential. Here, the Friar and Nurse were both played up to good effect as nothing beats a good bit of innuendo and a dose of slapstick for lightening the mood.
Acting is top drawer throughout this piece. 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. With such a uniformly strong cast, it’s perhaps invidious to single out just one performer but Lucy Green’s portrayal of Juliet (amongst other parts) stood out, ranging as it did from the innocent and naïve to full blown romping lust to tyrannical spoilt brat. And the seductive manner in which she dealt with our winsome young gent in the front row was comedic gold.
That’s it for the girls at the Fringe this year but they’re pedaling off around other parts of the UK in the next month or so, so just check out the website and see if you can find a show near to you. Highly recommended.