BENGALURU: The Handlebards perform Shakespeare on cycles, and do environmentally sustainable theatre. This does not mean earnest, all-fun-sucked-out dramas. Instead the promise is of “dry wit” and “A stonking, bonkers, entertaining time.”
This UK-based troupe is here at Bengaluru to perform Much Ado About Nothing at three different venues.
“The plays are done using recycled props, actors use cycles instead of cars as transport and tents for accomodation,” says Tom Dixon, founding member and producer. There are times they have to fly down, like to Bengaluru, for their shows. But then they pack to “fit shows into couple of suitcases” and “massively” reduce carbon footprint. “It is complicated,” says Dixon, apparently they spend a lot of time worrying over the details.
The original team, who are still part of the troupe, are science grads. “But (we) didn’t want to ,spend the first years of our working lives in a lab!” says Dixon. “We wanted an adventure, we wanted a physical challenge and we had a passion for acting.” The artistes came up with the name first — Handlebards — then felt “obliged” to put the idea into action. So, cycling with the Bard.
Why Shakespeare? “Because he is one of the greatest Bards of recorded history. Because outdoor Shakespeare is very popular in the UK in the summer. Because his plays are timeless. And of course because we don’t have to pay any royalties,” says Dixon, with a wink.
Handlebards promise a romp but say that they tackle tragedies like Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and Hamlet too. “Although to be fair our versions of them were more comedies than tragedies!” says Dixon. “The shows become energetic because they have to be, because there are four of us playing all of the characters and you have few set and costume to help you.” He does not believe it takes away from a tragedy. “This (approach) makes people root for you as a troupe,” he says, “we get through the shows with charm and clever tricks and I think people enjoy that a lot”.
The troupe seems to take pride in their goofiness, but its co-founder’s favourite Indian playwright is Vishal Bhardwaj with his dark Shakespearean dramas. “He is incredibly talented,” says Dixon of Bhardwaj, “and his films Maqbool, Omkara and Haider are incredible interpretations of Shakespeare.”
The Handlebards have never rewritten any of the Bard’s plays. “I think it’s safe to say he was definitely better at writing than we are,” says Dixon, “so if it ain’t broke don’t fix it!” There is improvisation: “As our shows have audience participation there is always a degree of chatting with the crowd and if something goes wrong we will acknowledge it - but we try to be witty about it.”
If Dixon did rewrite a Shakespearean play, though, it would be Timon of Athens. “It’s definitely not one of his best,” says Dixon. “Some scholars think that Shakespeare didn’t actually finish it because he had a mental breakdown… so we’ll give it a shot.”
Which of the Bard’s characters would’ve been environment-friendly? And Dixon’s answer has a touch of whimsy and that promised dry wit. “Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” he says, “he’s a fairy but he’s also very busy and has to ‘put a girdle around the earth in 40 minutes’ so he’d need a bike to help him move that fast... He’d be environmentally friendly because he lives in a forest. Deforestation would be a big issue for him.”
The shows will be on September 21 and 24 at Shoonya, on September 22 at The Humming Tree and on September 23 at Alliance Francaise.