'We are fortunate that our job is to be silly'

'We are fortunate that our job is to be silly'

'We are fortunate that our job is to be silly'

They cycle across the UK performing Shakespeare plays out-of-the-box, quite literally! Carrying the set, the props and costumes with them, they cycle uphill and downhill, to take the Bard to audience across the world. The Handlebards’ previous tour in the city was by an all male-troupe but this time around, it’s the all-female team who is here and they are bringing ‘As You Like It’ to Bengalureans the way they like it.

 Charlotte Driessler, Jessica Hern, Lucy Green and Eleanor Dillon Reams, along with Tom Dixon, the producer and founding member of The Handlebards, stopped by to chat with Anupama Ramakrishnan about their Indian adventures and their chaotic but charming life, before they cycled on.

So, this is the female team’s first trip to India...

Lucy: The cultural shock is massive. You cannot walk on the streets without being noticed. But the people are so friendly. The thing that struck me most was the number of small communities that you see around. And the shops too. You look out of your car window, and there is so much vibrance. So though we may be tired, we don’t want to sleep.

Charlotte: We were warned about the traffic. Oh my goodness! We drive quite a lot back in the UK. But no way we can do that here.

 How tough is it travelling on bicycles with all the props and the set itself?

Jessica: It’s your job and you got to do it. We are fortunate that our job is to be silly. It’s incredible to talk about theatre, to step on to the stage and perform. We carry everything with us. Back in the UK, it rains most of the time. So we use inner tubes of the bicycles to set up the tents.

Tom: Our travelling is spurred on the fact that you get to meet different people and have different experiences. You are exhausted a lot but that’s okay. Once when we were on tour here in India, I was so ill but then we managed to get on to the stage and perform and that’s because the audience in Bangalore are so giving.

How different is it performing for children?

Jessica: I wanted to know what they would take from the characters. But they had already studied the play and they understand it. Sometimes even better than some schools in UK.
I wasn’t expecting that. They were also asking questions like ‘were you inspired by Brecht’? I was not expecting that all!

The female team of the ‘Handlebards’ was formed in 2016. How did you become a part of it? 

Jessica: I was training for a cycling event when I found on Facebook that they were looking for actors. I have done musical theatre in UK. But this is more exciting. In Shakespeare, you get to play so many different characters. Women get the opportunity to play male characters as well. That is amazing.

Charlotte: I was trained in theatre in Scotland. I took part in the audition and got it.

Lucy: As part of the fitness test, I had to jog across the road. And by the time I looked, Tom (Dixon) had reached the other side of the road.

Eleanor: It’s fun and adventurous. It was a new challenge for me. I was told quite a lot of fitness is required for it. I have seen their shows before and I love the energy. It is so completely engaging. And you get to travel and to come to India too.

Any experiments with food here?

Tom: I’m fine with Indian food, the girls wanted to try the local food -- idlis, dosas -- and the different curries. Curry for breakfast is not a thing in UK (laughs). We want to have fresh food, the one served on banana leaves.

Eleanor: We haven’t eaten with hands yet. There is always an attempt though. But we give up because we are so hungry by then.

Lucy: Missing the salads though (laughs). When it’s hot, we have lot of salads back home.

Any faux pas on stage?

Charlotte: The set broke when we were performing at a school here. But we are completely engaged on stage as a team and it become a part of the play. By the time, you have already charmed the audience. They are in the palm of your hands.

(The Handlebards will present ‘As You Like It’ at Jagriti (November 4, 8 pm and November 5, 3 pm and 6.30 pm), Ranga Shankara (November 7, 8 and 9 at 7.30 pm), and at Humming Tree (November 12, 2 pm and 6 pm. Tickets are available on www.bookmyshow.com)


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