REVIEW: The HandleBards: Romeo and Juliet, Great North Museum: Hancock, Newcastle

The HandleBards.
The HandleBards.

The tragic tale of star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet became a hilarious comedy romp when the HandleBards got their hands on it.

The cycling troupe of actors has been travelling the country with Shakespeare’s plays for the last few years.

But this time around, the girls are having a go – and they’re certainly giving the lads a run for their money.

Eleanor Dillon-Reams, Lianne Harvey, Lizzie Muncey and Lotte Tickner stopped by Newcastle last night for a side-splitting rendition of the Bard’s most famous play.

I laughed uncontrollably as the girls pranced around the outdoor stage, giving the show that signature HandleBards makeover.

They donned codpieces (of varying sizes) and lowered their voices to masquerade as men, with cheeky winks to the audience every time a line like “Are you a man? You look like a man, but your tears make you look like a woman” was uttered.

The HandleBards: Romeo and Juliet

The HandleBards: Romeo and Juliet

The set may be simple, comprising of just a couple of boxes and pop-up tents, but it’s put to exceptional use.

The use of props is ingenious too. The Disney Princess-esque ‘birds’ that flew around every time Juliet was near and the bicycle pumps used as swords were magnificent, and had everyone chuckling.

The girls each take on multiple characters, signalling the change with a ding of the mini bicycle bells worn on their fingers. Their command of Shakespeare’s language, and the ability to remember the vast amount of lines they had to master, is unbelievably impressive.

Changing their accent, voice, posture, and facial expressions gave each character a clear identity.

Between the over-the-top gesticulations, running jokes like Friar Laurence repeatedly losing his ‘scalp’ and the breaking down of the fourth wall, the show was almost too much to handle and my face ached from laughter by the end.

The audience was very much a part of the show – even recruited to fill gaps – and the infectious camaraderie between the actors spilled out onto us – it felt like we were all best mates.

The lasses didn’t hold back in their performances at all. They put every ounce of their being into it, and it looked like they were having just as much fun as we were.

Women playing women in Shakespeare’s day was unheard of, never mind them playing the blokes too, but had these lasses been around then, I’m sure everyone would have thought differently.

The HandleBards make Shakespeare fun and accessible for people of all ages – and that’s exactly how it should be.

The girls’ Romeo and Juliet is infectiously fun, seriously silly, and utterly hilarious. You need to see them in action.

With songs that’ll be stuck in your head for days, belly-aching laughter and tremendous performances, Romeo and Juliet is a five-star performance that you need to see.

The girls are at the Cycle Hub, in Newcastle tonight with The Taming of the Shrew, but the show is sold out.

The boys are touring with Richard III and Much Ado About Nothing.

Click here to see the tour dates for both groups.