Romeo and Juliet, The Handlebards at Bradford on Avon and touring

WHAT more apt venue for cycling theatricals The Handlebards than the home of Moulton Cycles in Bradford-on-Avon? And what lovelier setting to watch a hilarious three-wheeled version of Romeo and Juliet on the night before the imposition of Boris’s latest three-word slogan, the Rule of Six?

The company usually tours in two groups, boys and girls, but nothing is usual this year. The trio on the 2020 tour – Tom Dixon, Lucy Green and Paul Moss – share a house, so were able to work on a show, properly bubbulated, just in case the rules changed. When the illustrious Minister for Digital (digital WHAT, one may ask), Arts, Culture, Horse Racing aka Sport, Media et al announced that open air theatricals could begin, with socially distanced audiences and other precautions, the Wigan-based cyclists were ready and off they set.

They rapidly discovered, as has the handful of open air touring companies braving Covid-19, that audience appetite for live performance is boundless. Shows sell out everywhere.

Romeo and Juliet is the world’s best known love story, the tragic tale of teenage lovers caught in historic rivalry between their families. At the end, they die. No spoiler needed.

Traditionally, open air Shakespeare is not just very physical (as in the fights and the deaths) but funny, keeping the audience richly entertained. The Handlebards reduced the dramatis personae to the basic minimum, playing  not only R and J, but Mercutio (with the whole Queen Mab speech), the Nurse, Benvolio, Lady Capulet, Friar Lawrence, Tybalt, Brother John (replete with Holy [and hand-sanitising] Water for the audience participation), and, at Bradford on Avon, with the aid of Steve.

Paul’s Romeo, played in the style of Kevin the Teenager, shows the speed of passing fancy, settling on Lucy’s hilariously self-obsessed Juliet, posing on her famous balcony. He was also a very convincing Lady Capulet, and she a snarling Tybalt.

Tom’s buxom Nurse, tonsured Friar and mercurial Mercutio … and lots of others too, made up the cast of loving, warring Verona residents as the story came to its inevitable, but rather lighthearted, end.

Congratulations to the Handle­bards and thanks to the volunteer stewards, as a delighted audience made their distanced ways home, already looking forward to a return in 2021, in easier and more certain times.



FOOTNOTE. Catch the production, if you can, at the Bishop’s Palace in Wells on Tuesday 15th September, at Rockbourne Roman Villa on Wednesday 16th or at Poole Lighthouse on Saturday 10th October, all starting at 7pm.  Booking is essential and you must now sit in groups of not more than six people (we think!).

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