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Last month Jacob Rayner headed to Ventnor Exchange to review The Handlebards eccentric take on the Shakespearean classic Macbeth for Brave Island. Under 25 and looking for free tickets to events, funding and training? Sign up to Brave Island for new opportunities every week.

“Not your typical theatre company”

The Handlebards are not your typical theatre troupe, they strive to make a difference, helping the environment by riding to each individual venue on their bikes with their costumes strapped tightly on their backs. Not only does this make them stand out but it promotes sustainability and healthy living for everyone. That being said I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I walked into Ventnor Exchange on the 20th January.

The idea of Shakespeare and comedy were very detached in my mind but I was interested in how comedy could be applied without it becoming over the top and taking away from the Shakespearian nature of the performance. However I was very glad to find out my original train of thoughts were misled, and I was pleasantly surprised by what I found.

“I notice something that was an absolute first in all of the theatre I’ve watched…”

First and foremost I must comment on the atmosphere as I entered the theatre; I had come in with the thought that this would be a play as a means of introducing kids to Shakespeare, but it quickly became clear that it was much more than that. The theatre was bustling with all ages and there was a real element of excitement growing as the play edged closer with excited discussions occurring, everyone was tightly knitted to the stage with the furthest back being no more than 15-20 feet away from the performers, which I think added a real feeling of intimacy to the play.

As the play begins I notice something that was an absolute first in all of the theatre I’ve watched; the whole play, including all 28+ characters, the music and the shifting of the background imagery were all performed by THREE exceptional actresses (Kathryn Perkins, Natalie Simone and Jenny Smith).

Having previously learnt lines for one or two characters myself I can’t even begin to imagine how challenging it must be to learn around 13 parts each and the trio did that with ease, they were superb throughout.

“There were laughs in the crowd from beginning to end…”

One of my favourite aspects of the performance was the actresses’ ability to engage the audience, they were never afraid to break the fourth wall or to interact with the audience, and they did this all while keeping primarily to the true script. There were laughs in the crowd from beginning to end (which is not an easy feat to accomplish in a Shakespeare play), they made great use of running gags and often referenced modern-day issues like lockdown or parking to keep the play topical and accessible.

Something they did particularly well was their ability to keep the audience engaged while members are changing costumes, using instruments or subtle gags to keep the play flowing really well without interruption. Although the play overall was very good there were some minor negatives in my opinion, I did start to think certain jokes were being overused and bled dry particularly the fart and genital jokes, but I understand comedy is subjective and this is something that children, in particular, find highly amusing.

Another issue was the confusion of characters, sometimes it was a struggle to determine which character we were actually watching because there were so many; but they did a good job of highlighting the most important characters by writing names on their clothing, and this problem is always going to occur and is unavoidable in a production of three actresses/actors so I don’t fault them in the slightest for that.

Final Score

Overall this play was a fantastic time for all ages, this play exceeds its objective of making Shakespeare accessible and interesting for all ages and finds ways to keep everyone entertained. It stays as true to the original as it can while including comedy and the actresses will blow you away with their performances, I would definitely be interested in seeing the Handlebards again and can’t wait to see them back on the Isle of Wight soon and for that reason give it an 8/10!

Q&A

After the play finished I managed to get the opportunity to interview the three actresses who brimmed with infectious chemistry and charisma which drove the play throughout:

How did you become ‘The Handlebards?’
Perkins: Well The Handlebards started around 10 years ago, but the originals have been getting different actors to do it for the past 6-7 years and we joined a couple years back

How long has acting and theatre been a part of your life?
Simone: about seven to nine years including drama school

What is your favourite part about being part of this play?
Smith: Mixing the comedy in with our love of Shakespeare

What are your favourite characters to play on stage?
Perkins: Definitely Macbeth, he’s a bit of a lad and that’s always a fun character to play; but if I had to name another Ross as well, I love the accent used for him.

And finally, out of all the places you’ve rode to and from, where has been your favourite to perform?
All: That’s a tough one, probably Scotland, or the Cotswolds because it was so beautiful up there.

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