The first performance I saw at Pegasus Theatre was Ventoux in 2016, which depicted the careers of cyclists Lance Armstrong and Marco Pantani. 2Magpies staged this production that featured two road bikes, so I thought it was fitting to attend another cycling-themed performance at Pegasus on Saturday evening.
The HandleBards are a pedal-powered, female troupe who have cycled over 1,300 miles across the UK this summer to perform their rendition of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Ellice Stevens opened the show by describing how the quartet carries all of their costumes, instruments, and the set, proving that theatre can be toured and performed sustainably.
The opening established the tone for the silly nature of the show, with a low-budget, hilarious depiction of the eponymous storm and shipwreck. This included their own vocalizations of the wind, waves, and seabirds, as well as bubbles, blue streamers, and plastic fish.
As the show progressed, the four performers swapped costumes and voices in order to depict a dozen different characters. A key part of their set was a striped curtain-wall, which the actresses ducked behind to change capes and hats; the curtain also had a flap that they lifted to use as a puppet-style theatre to frame flashbacks.
Given that their production was also meant to be enjoyed by children, the cast made fitting additions and adjustments to the performance. Much of the acting included high-energy physical comedy, which was especially highlighted between the magical pairing of wizard Prospero (Ellice Stevens) and the spirit Ariel (Tika Mu’tamir), and the young lovers Miranda (Katie Sherrard) and Ferdinand (Roisin Brehony). Also, they switched between the original iambic pentameter and asides to the audience that were in ‘plain English’, in which they broke the fourth wall and clarified what was going on.
My favourite elements from this performance are what set this show apart from other interpretations of The Tempest. The Handlebards creatively featured cycling-themed props, such as a bike light in place of “the most auspicious star,” hand pumps as swords, and a helmet with a cover and hair as part of Caliban’s (Roisin Brehony) costume. I also enjoyed how they brought some of the audience members into the show: from holding costumes in place to represent onstage characters, to becoming part of Prospero’s magic show. The costume and character changes were clever and entertaining, and towards the end they became quite resourceful with their audience help, which was amusing for everyone involved. I wonder how much of the performance is actually unscripted and dependent on how the audience reacts on a particular evening.
One small change for the HandleBards to think about was brought to light by my plus one. He was curious about how they decided which parts to take out and how they adapted the script for the scenes they chose. For example, he thought that they should have highlighted Miranda’s “brave new world” line, which is perhaps the equivalent of “to be, or not to be” in Hamlet. We were also unsure about the rationale behind the accents chosen for the jester and butler.
I was impressed by how four witty actresses made this seventeenth century play accessible for a wide audience and funny for all ages, using a lightweight, transportable set. If you are curious to see a similarly hilarious performance by Shakespeare’s ‘spokesmen,’ the male group of cyclists is touring Much Ado About Nothing for one more week.