Performing Shakespeare is a risky and daring undertaking in this day and age, where it seems like every possible approach to producing the Bard’s plays has been already realised, and the formal old language itself remains a barrier to the untrained modern audience member. However, the world’s first cycling theatre company The Handlebards not only take the challenge in their stride but proves that there is always fresh methods of presenting Shakespeare that makes it accessible to all, in their production of the comedy Twelfth Night.
Four men in simple, timeless, colour-themed outfits don basic but effective costume items and props to portray almost 15 characters and tell the dizzying tale of unrequited love and mistaken identity. Costume and thereby character changes are done at an equally dizzying speed, sometimes even onstage before the audiences eyes, and the actors even switch back and forth between two at times. Luckily, these potentially confusing transitions are signified to the audience through the ring of a bike bell attached to each actor’s hand (this use of props made of bike parts is integrated throughout the show). These quick changes create an incredibly fast pace, which is maintained constantly throughout the performance by the endlessly energetic performers. These actors are truly astounding in their representation of their respective roles, creating stark contrast between each character they play in voice, mannerism and movement – this really is the highlight feature of the show. The group remain faithful to traditional Shakespearean tropes, such as cross-dressing and crude humour, but put their own spin on the text by presenting the music of the play through gorgeous four part harmonies, accompanied by small ukuleles, banjos and melodicas. They also instigate amusing audience interaction, breaking the fourth wall to flirt with the front row, pull audience members onstage to stand in as characters, and ‘unintentionally’ soak the crowd with water.
Overall, The Handlebard’s Twelfth Night is truly one of the best Shakespeare performances I’ve seen (and I teach Drama and English). While it’s concepts are not unlike other production companies, the energy, pace, hilarity, wit and talent of it makes the show a standout that anyone can enjoy (seriously, even the extremely confused 8 year old in front of me loved it). This is not to mention the environmental sustainability of the production, with all the show’s set, props and costumes being able to be transported on the back of the boy’s bikes to any venue. Truly a must see for my fellow Bard fanatics on the group’s hopeful return to Adelaide Fringe in 2020!
Rating: 4/5 stars
The Handlebard’s Twelfth Night season has now ended with the conclusion of Adelaide Fringe 2019. For further information on the group, visit www.handlebards.com.
Thumbnail image via Adelaide Fringe website