REVIEW: The HandleBards: Much Ado About Nothing, Crook Hall, Durham

The HandleBards: Much Ado About Nothing.
The HandleBards: Much Ado About Nothing.

The HandleBards cycled back into Durham last night for another rip-roaring rendition of a Shakespearean classic.

The boys – Paul Hilliar, Matt Maltby, Liam Mansfield and Stanton Plummer-Cambridge – gave comedy Much Ado About Nothing the signature HandleBards treatment and it was absolutely hilarious.

It’s a love story between Claudio and Hero and a match of wit between Beatrice and Benedick, as well as a dastardly plot to ruin it all.

The four-strong troupe is cycling 1,500 miles across the country, carrying everything they need to stop off and perform their shows along the way.

They each take on a multitude of characters, signalling the change with a ding of the mini bicycle bells worn on their fingers. The characterisation is incredible. There’s never any confusion over who everyone is meant to be as the actors change their voice, facial expressions, posture and mannerisms rapidly and with seeming ease.

They hold up waistcoats and headwear to represent the other characters in a scene, quickly running back and forth to – at times – have conversations with themselves.

The HandleBards.

The HandleBards.

And when there are simply too many on-stage roles to fill, they recruit members of the audience to fill the void – including yours truly, who played the triangle during a musical scene.

You’ll barely have time to gasp for air between bouts of laughter during this charming and chaotic piece of theatre.

The HandleBards theme goes much further than the fact that they cycle from show to show. Bicycle-themed props are used ingeniously throughout the performance, and makeshift musical instruments, including a mop that became a single-stringed music-maker was wonderfully-creative.

Between the sock puppets, over-the-top gesticulations and general silliness, the boys gave a no-holds-barred performance that made Shakespeare fun and accessible for people of all ages.

The HandleBards.

The HandleBards.

I laughed until I cried. There’s nothing else out there like the HandleBards – I practically count the days until they return each year.

It was a true five-star production.

Whatever you’re doing tonight, drop it and head to Crook Hall.

The HandleBards are back at Crook Hall tonight with Richard III. Click here to book tickets.

A new all-female version of The HandleBards will also be visiting the region soon. See the website for details.