Bards on bicycles

Shakespeare uninterrupted

Bards on bicycles

Picture this. ‘Macbeth’ is being enacted. Lady Macbeth, with a hipflask, is doing a jig or two. Bicycle pumps have replaced swords, wheels  turn into shields, and baked beans flow as blood.

There’s more — fishing rods, bike bells and shuttlecocks. Is this Shakespeare? Well, every line of it. What is different is the innovative interpretation and the setting. And nobody does it better than this bunch of British geniuses called ‘The HandleBards’.

Now legendary, they are the all-male troupe of cycling actors, who carry their set, props and costumes on their bicycles to perform Shakespeare’s plays across the globe (pun unintended). The bards are here in Bengaluru now, ready to create a Bedlam out there on stage, albeit, a rip-roaring one.

“And one man in his time plays many parts” is true of them, for they take on more than 40 roles in the plays. “It’s great to be back with ‘Hamlet’ and ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. We decided on bringing these two plays as it has a lot of universal elements. One can do so much with it and interpret it,” says Paul Moss, sipping his morning tea. The rest of the ‘Bards’ — Callum Brodie, Tom Dixon, Calum Hughes-McIntosh and Matthew Seager (Matt) — notwithstanding the jet lag, join him in the couch. ‘Chai’ seems to be a clear favourite. The British penchant for tea? “No, the tea here is nicer,’’ adds Paul, the quiet one of the lot.

“Last time, we came here, our schedule was tight but we are here for a longer time now. It’s my third time and it feels like my second home. Probably, we could have a ‘Handlebards Headquarters’ here,” jokes the effervescent Tom.

For the uninitiated, Paul was the one who set the pedals rolling. “Tom and I have been friends for very long — eight years. Soon, Callum Brodie, another friend, joined. Calum McIntosh and Matt came in later. That’s how the company came together. We started on cycles because it was cool. It’s also hugely adventurous and sustainable.

Britain had won a lot of medals in cycling at Olympics and it became very fashionable to cycle,” adds Paul. Watch these ‘band of Bards’ on stage and you end up with aching muscles. For one, they wear a lot of hats (in every way). The tomfoolery comes out beautifully as the tragedies turn into comedies. “But we play the characters completely straight,” says Tom earnestly. “We bring out the comedy in serious characters. We show parodies of a serious play but we stay true to the text. What is amazing to me is how a guy who died so many years back is relevant even today,” avers Paul.

‘The HandleBards’ are restricted to working with only what they can carry. “Logistics is difficult all the time as our sets and props differ from performing outdoors and indoors. As a travelling theatre troupe, we have to change design and sets. It gets tiring when there are so many flights to take,” he adds. Callum Brodie remembers how the longest summer was cycling for nine days, carrying the heavy props and sets. “Everyone is smiling even if we lose a prop or do something drastically wrong. Each show of ours is different and improvised. We ourselves have performed hundreds of versions of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’,” adds Callum.

Matt is new but has settled in well. He saw an opening online and gave auditions. And there he was! “The first time, cycling was quite an experience but am used to it now,” he says. So what will the purists have to say about their acts? And Shakespeare if he was alive? “Purists may not agree to our play so much, but Shakespeare ‘Yes’. He would love it. We are very true to the text. Most people get scared by the text as they think its too large and grandiose, but we make it accessible and fun to study,” he adds. Tom pitches in, “I’m not sure where we get the energy from but I think it’s because we are just excited about

performing. We get tired after the cycling but there is an adrenaline rush while performing. Then, we are back to being tired. We have taken our plays to about 1,500 schools. The first show is always hilarious and is improved later on. The director sees the first and then the last, then tells us what’s good and what’s not, like a principal,” he laughs.

Theirs is a skill that cannot be matched — the use of props, even a hat, as characters. For all you know, you would be called on stage and asked to play Ariel or a gravedigger. “Audience participation changes the entire show,” adds Callum Brodie. “Shakespeare can be interpreted at different levels. One can experiment as the plays are so universal,” points out Mcintosh.

While here, they are ready to explore Hampi, Gokarna and take Matt to Nandi Hills too.  “We are helping Matt explore. It’s crazy to taste the roadside ‘chai’ and we plan to get Matt ‘idlis’ as well,” laughs Tom. The spices don’t seem to threaten Matt, not a bit.

Meanwhile, Matt admits his fetish for Bollywood dancing too. “Last time, we were surprised that the audience here liked it as we were very nervous. We got a standing ovation and it was such a dream to come back in a year. Hopefully this year, too our plays will be well received. To come back is a dream come true,” exclaims  McIntosh, who loves playing ‘Hamlet’.

As ‘The HandleBards’ take one back to the Elizabethan era, when men played the roles of women, one can only borrow from the Bard and the ‘Bards’ and say, “Though this be but madness, yet there is method in’t.”

Watch the plays

Jagriti Theatre, Whitefield:
‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ (Jan 15 and16, 8 pm; Jan 17, 3 pm and 6.30 pm). Hamlet: (Jan 29 and 30, 8 pm; Jan 31, 3 pm and
6.30 pm)

Rangashankara:   ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’
(Jan 19, 7.30 pm). ‘Hamlet’ (Jan 20, 7.30 pm).

KEA Prabath Rangamandira: ‘A Mid-summer Night’s Dream’ (Jan 21, 22, 7.30 pm). ‘Hamlet’
(Jan 23, 7.30 pm).

‘The Handlebards’ is presented by the Bangalore-based ‘Organizational Theatre’ founded by Ranji David. For tickets, visit www.bookmyshow.com



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