The Handlebard’s eco-conscious Midsummer Night’s Dream competes in a crowded field, but with their unique approach to sustainable touring theatre, the production’s playful chaos draws in a crowd.
A genteel audience is scattered around London’s ancient Charterhouse Square with envy-worthy picnics a dozen – the summer evening setting is idyllic.
For those uninitiated in the Handlebard’s unique selling point, they cycle around the country with stripped-down productions of Shakespeare on their bicycles. This zero-emission strategy has taken off and their strong concept has propelled them across 20,000 miles in the last decade.
All this cycling explains the exuberant energy of the cast of four. It is a tour-de-force, as the troupe launch through an epic character list with impressively quick athleticism.
Direction from Nel Crouch is packed with ideas. When Jenny Smith’s hyper Puck whizzes around the world, the actor commits to an exhausting spin class on the on-stage bike.
Much to the audiences’ glee, Alex Cook’s hilarious Changeling has surprising prominence, and Meredith Lewis delivers show-stopping comedy as an Elvis-like Oberon and moody Helena. There are plenty of modern moments which help clarify the plot, including the choice to make the Mechanicals’ theatre-kids, complete with warm-up games and musical-theatre merch.
Titania’s fairies are fabulous and French, but there’s a lack of magic in the fairy kingdom. The production skips over the darker undertones of the play’s power structure and softens the frightening gender dynamics.
In slimming the text to a neat two hours, this Midsummer Night’s Dream is more focused on human comedy, which it does very well, helped by cloud direction from Amalia Vitae.
Harry Pizzey’s simple and effective design supports the jokes with visual aplomb. Blazers, headpieces and moustaches are used to transform the four actors and metatheatricality adds to the laughs, as the cast change in front of us, often playing several parts in the same scene, sometimes just by holding up a jacket.
With nearly twenty characters and just four actors, I suddenly found myself on stage as Hipolita (and a few other characters). All the audience interaction was good humoured and audiences of all ages roared throughout this accessible, fun, family-friendly frolic into the forest.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream tours until 9th September, more information can be found here.