The Tempest performed by The Handlebards

Another week, another theatre production. This week’s was a much more informal event at the Merchant Adventurer’s Hall in York.

We first discovered The Handlebards last year when some friends invited us to join them on a “picnic in the park” type event at Howsham Mill. This year the same friends organised a larger group of us and it was an indoor event.

The Handlebards describe themselves as an outdoor touring theatre company. I’d describe them as two slightly bonkers groups of actors who cycle round the UK delivering Shakespeare in small venues. All their props and costumes have to be carried on the bikes so most are improvised and rely on the imagination.

This version of The Tempest, delivered by the girls, was unlike any other version I’ve seen. I’d describe it as anarchic and funny without losing the essentials of the plot.

I enjoyed this performance but not quite as much as last year’s Twelfth Night. This was down to 2 main factors. Firstly, I spent the day driving to Coventry, sitting down in a forum for 6 hours and then driving back up to York. Way too much sitting down to be followed comfortably by another 3-ish hours of sitting on not very padded seats. It would be fair to say I had a numb bum and the fidgets from about mid-way through the first half.

Secondly, whilst the Merchant Adventurer’s Hall is a wonderful medieval guild hall it has a lot of pillars supporting the roof and these have a tendency to get in the way. And doesn’t it always seem that a critical bit of action happens at the point you can’t see what’s going on!

The venue though did give me a strong sense of belonging to, and being a small link in, the chain of history. People must have been gathering in this place to watch strolling bands of players, possibly playing The Tempest, for centuries.

In terms of the acting the group are competent and funny. If I paid to see a staged, theatre production I might have been disappointed but in this context it worked well. And I take my hat off to those people who were foolish enough, or were seeing Handlebards for the first time, and sat in the front row. Several of them were co-opted as extras, including 3 brave souls who ended up on stage, and several of them had wine/G&T/olives nicked.

In summary, not great theatre but a great, fun night out with friends.

Click here to find out more about the Merchant Adventurer’s Hall

Click here to ind out more about The Handlebards


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