INTERVIEW: The HandleBards on cycling 2,000 miles to give Shakespeare a unique new twist

The HandleBards are cycling 2,000 miles across the country putting on outdoor performances of Shakespeare plays.'Left to right: Tom Dixon, Paul Moss, Callum Brodie, Callum Cheatle (lying).
The HandleBards are cycling 2,000 miles across the country putting on outdoor performances of Shakespeare plays.'Left to right: Tom Dixon, Paul Moss, Callum Brodie, Callum Cheatle (lying).
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TO cycle or not to cycle, that is the question? But the answer wasn’t a difficult one for theatre group Peculius.

Four actors, who have dubbed themselves The HandleBards, are cycling 2,000 miles across the UK to deliver performances of William Shakespeare’s plays, Macbeth and The Comedy of Errors.

As part of their tour, the guys will be parking their bikes at Crook Hall, in Durham City and The Cycle Hub, in Newcastle, next month.

The London-based group’s artistic director, Callum Cheatle, said: “We did this for the first time last year. We cycled 967 miles doing Twelfth Night and Romeo and Juliet, and for some reason we decided to double it this year.

“We’re doing 75 performances across the UK, working our way up towards Newcastle and then Scotland, then we’ll be heading back to Newcastle to get the ferry over to Amsterdam for a tour of the Netherlands and Belgium.

“We carry everything we need with us, our costumes, props, sets, day clothes, cycling gear, and we do all our own marketing so we’ve got our laptops, flyers, and tickets as well. It weighs about 60 kilos all together and we’ve got two trailers to pack everything into.

“It doesn’t seem like it’s going to be that hard until you get to places like the Yorkshire Dales and the Cotswolds and the hills are huge.”

Carrying their cargo and conquering hills aren’t the only challenges that The HandleBards face, the four actors also have to portray multiple characters each to pull off the shows.

Callum added: “There are only four of us and about 62 characters in both shows so it gets quite interesting. We have bicycle bells on our fingers that we ring every time we change character.

“We also have a rule that if a character is in a scene, they have to be on stage, so at times we have to hold up two or three hats to represent the other characters we’re meant to be, but sometimes we get people up from the audience to help us out with that bit.”

Explaining how The HandleBards were formed, Callum said: “I think the pun came first and then the idea formed around it. One of our friends had walked from Land’s End to John O’Groats and our competitive side came out and we wanted to outdo him, so we decided to cycle across the country and combine it with our passion of theatre.

“Bicycles seemed to be the most feasible way for us to travel and we wanted to get as close as we could to how they would have travelled in Shakespeare’s day, but none of us know how to ride a horse, so bikes it was.

“It is quite bonkers though, I suppose. We have to eat about 5-6,000 calories a day to keep our strength up, but since most of the shows are outside, people tend to bring along a picnic, so we’re always asking if people are going to eat all of their pork 
pies.

“Shakespeare really works outside because that’s the way it was intended to be performed. Contemporary theatre is made for an indoor stage, but it wasn’t like that back then.

“I think Shakespeare is so well known now as well, and people of all ages really do enjoy it.”

•The HandleBards are at The Cycle Hub, in Newcastle, with The Comedy of Errors on Saturday, July 12. They’re also calling at Crook Hall, in Durham City with Macbeth on Sunday, July 13 and The Comedy of Errors on Monday, July 14.

Doors open at 6pm for all shows, which begin at 7pm. To book tickets, go to www.peculius.com