It was an obvious venture to pursue really; two shows, a 926 mile adventure, 40 characters between 4 men, and all done in the trust that our well known British summer would be as glorious as they usually are.
None of us batted an eyelid when the suggestion was raised by Peculius' tour manager, Paul Moss. Four guys performing Twelfth Night and Romeo and Juliet across the country? Sensible idea, nothing could possibly go wrong…
The idea came about in July 2012 when Paul Moss met current RADA student Scott Westwood who was walking from John O'Groats to Land's End. As they walked and talked the concept slowly steeled over Paul of combining the equivalent distance of Scott's walk with theatre; making a band of travelling players that could survive the current arts cuts whilst bringing theatre to many areas of the country.
By travelling on bikes, carrying all our set, props and clothes with us there would be no transportation costs. It would be environmentally friendly, saving 20.4 tonnes of CO2 emissions, and it would fit within the concept of a travelling Shakespearean troupe. Paul set about tracking down venues, it was important that the HandleBards played at venues of cultural significance as an aim was to bring theatre out to communities in settings that were fitting for its content. We could easily cycle to sites of historic theatrical importance such as Rufford Old Hall and The Dell at the RSC, and this sense of performing within historic sites to local communities set the mood for the tour.
Thus the HandleBards was born, produced by Callum Cheatle's company Peculius, with a strong aim to look on positives that could be done in a time of austerity and arts cuts as well as bringing two great shows to the public.
The tour had to be fun and family friendly with a look on strengthening local community. At each venue our participation manager Tom Dixon would contact local bands that would be integrated within the shows. It is amazing how a new band can completely change to whole structure and mood of a performance, making each show new and fresh. We have had the cheeky ‘Brothers of Swing' at Hoghton Tower, a pair of incredible buskers called ‘Hey! Market' we met near our venue at Crook Hall, and even the 25 piece ‘Eagley Brass Band' at The Monastery Manchester.
We encouraged families to come along with a picnic, watch the show set in a venue which in its own right would be culturally important and have the action enhanced by the fantastic musicians we had met along the way. Even our ‘HandleBard' image has a healthy outgoing nature. All 4 of us dressed in 1930's costumes, we flit in and out of the 40 characters by the use of all the camping gear we have brought with us. Mosquito nets become dresses, bicycle pumps become swords, whilst hats, honkers, plates and baskets become puppets and are manipulated into new characters. We even disassemble our bikes and make them part of a functioning set to carry bunting across the stage.
With influences from shows such as The 39 Steps we have made Twelfth Night and Romeo and Juliet as big and imaginative as we can. Under the guidance of our director, James Farrell (Pericles, RSC, Homework, Jack Studio Theatre, Twelfth Night, Royal & Derngate) and the creative genius of costume mistress Libby Todd (LIT Circus, European Tour, Fragile, Tilted Productions) the HandleBards can proudly say we bring Shakespeare as the Brits may never have seen before.
We have also worked with the incredible charity Hospice Care Northumbria at Etal Manor raising £2000 for the charity in front of an incredible 300 strong audience.
What is more the tour is still going; in fact we are only half way through. For more information about our upcoming venues please visit our website.
You are also welcome to follow us on our blog to know our mishaps that have occurred from carrying a 60 kilo trailer over the Yorkshire dales and the Peak District, as well as the wonderful venues we have visited. Lots of sun, lots of stories, and eight tired legs.
- Callum Brodie (A HandleBard)