The Handlebards: As You Like It

Charming, funny and very silly, this is the sort of show that everyone needs to lighten up their Fringe experience.

Camped out behind the café in the Botanics, this production looks as though a strong southwesterly might blow the whole thing away. But then it has been brought in its entirety on bicycles – all the way from London.

Environmental concerns may not be the first thing you expect from your Shakespeare but skimping on set and costumes gives The Handlebards’ show a creative energy that seems authentically Elizabethan. When your musical score is realised by a ukulele and some rather lovely part-singing, and a significant proportion of your cast is pulled in from the audience you get a sense of theatre as an extension of normal life that chimes with our ideas about the early days of British performance art.

The actual cast of four women play many parts apiece but their adept characterisations leave no room for doubt as to who is who – even in one of the Bard’s best cross-dressing plots. The marvelous visual shorthand of a tennis or cricket ball worn nonchalantly on a low-slung belt marks out the male characters and a breastplate of cycle helmets identifies the buxom wench.

An outdoor production may not allow great subtlety of performance; and hamming it up is really only the start of a show where the audience’s picnics become the butt of jokes and where the chief characters are upstaged by sheep. And yet these are thoughtful and intelligent performances: the exiled Duke makes perfect sense as a weed-frazzled hippy and the sparky rivalry between the sexes is perfectly captured.

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Julie Morrice

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