The HandleBards care about the planet and they care about Shakespeare. So everything they need for their plays is carried by bike, turning lightweight props into costume and set. While the male half of the company tour one show, the female half tour another, each performing outdoors as much as they can. This Shakespearean girl gang will have cycled 1500 miles by September, performing more than 80 times, yet still have energy enough to bound around being hilarious and charming.
Hilarious and charming
The spells, sprites and tricks of The Tempest are summoned to Brighton’s gorgeous Open Air Theatre through clever direction and creative props. Wardrobe staples such as hats, glasses and capes mix in with bicycle pumps, helmets and brake lights. The simple, silly costumes are as funny as they are practical, allowing the four women to switch roles nimbly and play the entire cast. Katie Sherrard is wonderful in every part, even playing some simultaneously, and good-natured audience members are called in to help out as well.
Ellice Stevens is fantastically entertaining as Prospero until even the sight of her on stage made me giggle. I loved her absurd, egotistical Duke, played with sympathy as well as humour. She and Tika Mu’Tamir, as Ariel, riffed together wonderfully and pulled off some mean dance moves. Roisin Brehony’s truculent Caliban was a deliciously disgusting monster, and a real hit with the watching children.
Neither the wind nor uninvited seagulls prevented the actors from delivering Shakespeare clearly and with feeling even while outdoors on a windy afternoon. There is a smattering of audience participation and the actors come up into the crowd regularly. They make the most of the environment and I can imagine that the play is a little different each time as it responds to each venue.
To pull off a play of this scale under these restrictions, and have it be the best version of The Tempest I have ever seen, is magic Prospero would be proud of. I giggled and clapped through the whole performance and the inventive adaptation kept me guessing despite my familiarity with the play. A thoughtful mix of the original Shakespeare with the occasional clarifying aside or song worked brilliantly, while staying true to the classic spirit of the play.
My return to Brighton Open Air Theatre, and my immediate booking for the next time The HandleBards are in town, are both inevitable. See you there!