On the last weekend of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I went to see The HandleBards’ production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, set in the grounds of Edinburgh’s Botanic Gardens. The HandleBards are composed of Matthew Seager, Callum Brodie, Calum McIntosh, and Tom Dixon, all of whom cycled up to Edinburgh from London, stopping and performing at a myriad of varied outdoor locations on the way.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream naturally lends itself to being performed in outdoor spaces, but I thought that The HandleBards in particular made effective use of the setting, running around, jumping, dancing and throwing themselves down on the ground with an enthusiasm and energy all the more remarkable for the fact that it had just rained and the grass was decidedly wet and muddy. As a whole, their performance was very physical which added greatly to the humour – a bunch of young men prancing around like fairies is a sure-fire way to make people laugh.
As well as their exuberant performance, The HandleBards also have to be commended on their use of props and innovative staging. Being only four of them and finding themselves sometimes lacking enough cast members, they came up with the remarkably ingenious solution of using broomsticks with clothes on them, to represent the other characters. The bicycles themselves, on which they have travelled so many miles, also featured significantly in the setting, being rigged up to the scenery, so that one only had to cycle to change it. One prop I particularly liked was the umbrella that had been painted on the inside to act as the chaos-causing love-in-idleness flower.
Perhaps my favourite part of the performance (although admittedly it’s hard to choose), was in one of the final scenes where the Mechanicals perform their play ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ in front of Theseus, Hippolyta and the lovers. In order to make up the necessary numbers, the HandleBards picked several members of the audience to come on stage and act as the audience to the Pyramus and Thisbe play within the play, giving them cue cards with their lines on them, and bringing the metatheatricality of the-play-within-the-play to a whole new level.
In summary, this was a fast-paced, fun and energetic performance which seemed to have been thoroughly enjoyed by all.