Eco-conscious Shakespeare troupe the HandleBards ride in to Rhodes
A company of actors who pedal from venue to venue while carrying their set, props and costume are set to bring their riotous Shakespearean tragicomedy to Bishop’s Stortford.
The HandleBards will perform The Tempest on the Rhodes stage on Tuesday evening (September 10).
The story starts with a shipwreck. The court of Milan are washed up onto a mysterious island, which is inhabited by sprites, monsters and a vengeful magician with an axe to grind.
The HandleBards are split into two teams – the all-female troupe and all-male troupe. Throughout the summer, the men have toured the country with Much Ado About Nothing, while the women took on The Tempest.
Paul Moss, the HandleBards’ founding producer, explained: “Winging their way to you are Ellice Stevens, Roisin Brehony, Tika Mu’tamir and Katie Sherrard, who are some of the funniest people I know.
“Every show is different as they are always reacting to the audience every night, so it’s always a hoot. Watch out for the magic show – that’s my favourite bit!”
Paul launched The HandleBards with three friends in 2013 after their graduation from Durham University.
“We bought four bikes, we rehearsed two Shakespeare plays and off we went to cycle the length of the country, with no idea how it would go. Seven years later and we’re still going,” Paul said.
During their 2014 tour, the company garnered high praise from the legendary Shakespearean thespian Sir Ian McKellan, who had gone to watch one of their shows. “I’ve never seen a version as outrageous as this, and as uproariously funny,” he said in a follow-up interview.
Since the company started, audiences are becoming more and more environmentally conscious; in October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that if the planet warmed by 1.5C there would be catastrophic consequences, and the planet is currently headed for a rise of 3-4C.
Groups like Extinction Rebellion have staged high-profile protests to draw attention to the global crisis while more than 200 councils across the country have declared a climate emergency.
With this in mind, many theatregoers are in search of more eco-friendly experiences.
“We’re very proud of our environmental stance, and would love more people to come and join us,” said Paul.
“We cycle to around 80% of our shows (with a bit of help from vans and public transport every now and then), but it doesn’t make a huge amount of difference if 200 people are all driving to the performance in their cars. “We’d love [audiences] to cycle to the show or come along on public transport.”
It is not an easy task to pedal to each show, but each member of the cast and crew is committed to the HandleBards’ ethos. “There are five bikes on the road, ridden by the four cast members and their stage manager,” Paul explained.
“Between them they pull two bike trailers, and all of them have a full set of panniers on the bike. In all of that they carry the set, props and costume for the show, and everything that they need to survive on tour.
“The cast have cycled around 1,500 miles for the whole summer, starting in London and ending in Edinburgh, and they’re coming to Stortford on their way back down from the Edinburgh Fringe in their last week of tour.”
He added: “The most we’ve ever cycled is about 50 miles, and we’re pretty sure we’re never going to do that again! We always have some very challenging cycles around the Cotswolds, the Peak District and down in Cornwall, and it’s often the hills that kill us, not the distance.”
Tickets to The Tempest are available on the Rhodes website at rhodesartscomplex.co.uk.