It may have reached the end of a 1300 mile cycle ride but touring Shakespeare company the Handlebards is showing no signs of flagging. Founded in 2012 the company has gone from strength to strength, currently extending tours to Europe, with plans next year to visit the USA and Australia.
Its current production of Twelfth Night explodes with energy and is a genuine treat from start to finish.
A company of four men play every role, but in a storyline fuelled by gender reversal and mistaken identity it’s fascinating how director James Farrell loses nothing of the comedy and maintains all the romance. For example Ross Ford is a marvellously inebriated Sir Toby Belch, filching wine from the front row but when his Olivia is wooing Mark Collier’s determined Cesario, he oozes sincerity.
Farrell’s direction is notable for his slick handling of the physical comedy and there’s controlled chaos by the water-filled bucketful. Horns are honked, bells are tinkled to switch scenes and at one point an actor actually somersaults in and out of his costumes to populate the stage.
There may be plenty of action but these 21st century troubadours also take pains to make the storytelling coherent as well as entertaining. Credit here must also go to designer Connie Watson, whose colourful cycle-themed set and costumes are ingenious – which is especially impressive when you consider it all has to be hauled around the country on the back of cycles.