The HandleBards: Richard III

Fri 5th – Fri 19th August 2016


Alice Harper

at 12:28 on 18th Aug 2016



The Handlebards have a truly novel approach to performing Shakespeare. Taking on the famously bloody history of 'Richard III', the four actors play all 41 parts between them. They also completely do away with the play’s history of dark and brooding performances and choose to present it as an unashamedly silly comedy. On paper, it definitely should not work, but it absolutely does.

In front of a backdrop of coloured streamers and children's tents, which function as their stage exits, the actors introduce themselves and list the parts they will be playing. We then dive straight in to the most riotously silly one hour and forty five minutes of Shakespeare I have ever seen. Liam Mansfield plays the part of Richard, but unlike any other portrayal of the evil king I have witnessed. Camp, gleefully villainous, still limping, but armed with a child’s melodica, Richard plays all his own theme tunes and sound effects while delivering Shakespeare’s words with gusto. The other three Handlebards share the remaining parts between them, with particular hilarity caused by Paul Hilliar’s William Catesby, Matt Maltby’s Duchess of York and Stanton Plummer-Cambridge’s James Tyrrell.

The entire show is chaos. All four players are dashing about constantly, switching hats to indicate a character change, often several times within a scene. Added to this, the characters occasionally go charging off stage after imaginary horses, and unexpected regional accents give the usually fairly standard exchanges between characters a hilarious twist. The costumes are all brightly coloured and usually fit poorly as a result of being thrown on in a hurry, and there is a plethora of visual jokes to keep the audience in stitches.

At first confusion ensues regarding who is who and what is happening in the plot, but soon I realise that this is not the point of a Handlebards show. At no point is the script meant to be taken seriously, and rather than feeling like a desecration of Shakespeare’s text, it comes across as a joyous celebration of his work. The actors clearly love what they do and this enthusiasm translates to the audience. The final scene when the Earl of Richmond, speaking in a French accent, of course, chooses a lady from the audience to be his Elizabeth of York is as perfectly silly as the rest. This take on 'Richard III' is an unexpected delight, and a must see for Shakespeare fans.


Caragh Aylett

at 03:19 on 19th Aug 2016



Armed with my Ed Fringe Review jumper and a can of Irn Bru, I set off across Edinburgh to find the Botanic Gardens where the Handlebards' 'Richard III' is performed. I felt quite smug on completing my adventure but when I arrived I discovered that the four Handlebards had cycled all the way from London with everything they needed for their show on their backs; if adventures were competitions, they had won. What is quite wonderful is that this is not the only impressive thing about them.

The four men have challenged themselves, not only with cycling, but also in deciding to play forty-one characters between them. The piece begins with some wonderful live music and the cast explaining which of the forty-one characters they are going to play. It was at this point that I heard champagne corks popping and realised that my can of Irn Bru left me somewhat underprepared – take a picnic, you won’t regret it. Having explained their characters the audience are left wondering how on earth the cast are to complete this task; brilliantly is the answer. Through creative use of costume, accent and physicality the actors present the collection of characters to the audience. This leads to light-hearted, funny moments such as one cast member choosing to wear a tent to portray his next character.

Indeed, it is tents that make up the whole of their set. Three small, princess castle tents become the exit and entry points for the stage; this charming set is coupled with homemade props. A particular favourite was the use of bicycle pumps as swords, a quick reminder of how the company made it to the Fringe.

Not having great knowledge of Shakespeare, I quickly lose sight of the plot. This is not a problem caused by the actors but, as with all Shakespeare, it is useful to have quickly brushed up on the plot of the play before watching. Despite having only a tenuous grasp on what is actually happening in the narrative, the piece is still consistently entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable.

The Handlebards' 'Richard III' is a wonderful, endearing and charming piece of theatre. Taking any Shakespeare (the plays do not lend themselves well to shortened adaptations) to the most exciting festival in the world is certainly a bold move but they manage to make it incredible. Take a blanket, a picnic and a spare jumper (it is Edinburgh after all) and you are set for a perfectly entertaining evening.


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