Four men playing 22 characters – sounds like a tall order to us. But it was a piece of cake for The HandleBards, the UK-based four-men theatre troupe that made their Southeast Asia debut with Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. Presented by Gardner & Wife, the play tells Shakespeare’s timeless comedy of four young lovers who find themselves in an enchanted forest where sprites loiter and fairies rule all around them. And yes, it’s just the four of them who play all 22 characters.
Though the setup on stage is simple – you’ll see props like foldable chairs, hanging bits of cloths, and even an umbrella that doubles as a magical flower – the play is not. The guys (Tom, Calum, Matthew and Callum) periodically swap roles and costumes to play multiple characters, signalled by the ringing of a small bicycle bell attached to their fingers, and the quick and energetic changes were impressive. This also meant that there was a healthy amount of organised pandemonium happening on stage. Tip: You should be familiar with the play to fully grasp what’s going on.
What pleased us was the brilliant delivery of Shakespeare’s comedic flair by The HandleBards. The witty banter between the actors combined with a host of slapstick stunts, some of which seemed like gymnastics to us, set the stage for an entertaining night. It was evident the guys were having lots of fun, and it translated into the enthusiastic way the play was performed and the infectious laughter that spread throughout the audience. The sharp dialogue and the seamless way the scenes switched from light-hearted humour to chaos to suspense and back again to humour proved that The HandleBards are dab hands on stage. Be warned, you might find yourself up on stage sharing a scene or two with them as a fairy or a tree.
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