On to Sheffield.
The HandleBards have a love/hate relationship with Sheffield.
We love the people and the culture and the beautiful scenic views.. but hate the fact that the entire city is surrounded by MASSIVE HILLS! Like a mote around a castle, there seems to be a defensive wall of hill encircling the city and our venues. We can’t go around it, we can’t go under it, we’ll have to go over it. Sigh.
Once you manage to penetrate the city, you know that you shall have to do the whole process again just to get out of it… how does that even work… we go up hills to get into Sheffield then we go up hills to get out of Sheffield.. DAMN HILLS! This feeling was not improved by our memories from last year, when on leaving the city and managing to cycle up a huge hill towards the Peak District, we were rewarded by 3 punctures in the same day.
Our first show would be at ‘South Street Park Amphitheatre,’ and Dixon Bard was so excited to be back in the city where he studied, he spent a good five minutes just yelling ‘HELLO SHEFFIELD’ at the top of his voice, which I imagine was to the concern of many passers by.
This venue is amazing and not utilised enough by the local council. It is hidden behind the train station and overlooks a big chunk of the city, and when the sunsets, covers the land in beautiful colours. If you wish to play a gig, or put on a show, I really would recommend contacting the local council about using the space.
We have amazing memories of our audiences from last year, but this year Sheffield, you surpassed yourself. Ecstatic to have performed there, we had an even larger audience than last year and encountered some of our largest laughers yet. For us laughers are important, if you get a loud laugher it encourages others to laugh loudly too. We feel Sheffield and the HandleBards have the same sense of humour.
The wonderful Patrick Rose also joined us, and when his guitar strings broke he was not impeded, but simply got up and did vocal renditions of all his songs, which was staggeringly impressive.
If the Amphitheatre was great, the show the next day at ReCycle Bikes was stupendous. Word had gotten around about the show and the guys at the bike shop had done a cracking job at getting us into the local newsletter. An audience of 100+ packed the small but cosy bike yard and despite the dark clouds looming and the threat of a downpour, spirits where not dampened and the rain stayed off! Jackalopes Tale returned to perform with us again and with their Alt-Folk Americiana tunes they got everyone in the mood for our very different take on the show.
Macbeth went down a treat, with our audience laughing at every joke and small gesture that can sometimes get lost in larger spaces. With both shows being donation only, we were humbled and so grateful for such generosity from our audiences.
We were especially thankful for the gentleman who came up to us at the end of the show and offered us fish and chips from his local chip shop for FREE! With time against us (as the chip shop was going to shut soon) Dixon Bard cycled off into the sunset to find the famed chip shop and (after a quick photocall) returned with the delicious scran which we enjoyed on the benches in the bike yard. Thank you again, it was great!!
Safe to say: Sheffield, we cannot wait to return next year.
Newark Castle Ladies and gentlemen, our venue for ‘The Comedy of Errors,’ and also where we would be sleeping that evening.
Moss Bard, Cheatle Bard, and Brodie Bard managed to cycle to this historical location taking both trailers. However Dixon Bard, furious that he could not join us on the journey, had to take the train with his broken bike over his shoulder.
We have had many little problems during this tour, however we have always been in amazing circumstances when they have occurred. Old Adam destroying Dixon Bard’s wheel would have been catastrophic if it had happened a few miles down the road from where it did. But luckily it occurred in front of the eyes of the head gardener at Thrumpton Hall. He, kindly, threw the bike in the back of his car and took Dixon Bard to the train station.
When we arrived at Newark, Dixon Bard had been there for 2 hours, and had had his wheel fixed for minimal cost due to the kind support of the gents at the bike shop called Bike Shop. This shows us two things: firstly that it is only through the kindnesses of others that we are able to successfully complete this tour without having a break down (excuse the pun). Secondly, cycling with 60 Kilos of weight makes you much slower than a train.
Newark Castle was a gem of a performance. We had so much fun with our audience, many of whom decided to scale a tree during the interval to help Moss Bard retrieve a bell that accidentally got stuck there during a scene after Dixon Bard throws it away in anger. We loved our audience so much decided to instigate an impromptu cast/audience selfie. Enjoy.
Show done we headed to the Prince Rupert pub, home of many local ales, and a perfect location for us to test our hypothesis ‘Does the same local ale or local cider taste better when drunk from a tankard?’
The HandleBards have come to the safe conclusion that the tankard wins! Dixon Bard explains his theory
'The action of sipping from a tankard is a much more enjoyable experience due to images of tankards being used at feasts, festivals and celebrations in popular culture (such as Lord of the Rings). This association of tankards with happiness and laughter thus increasing the level of endorphins produced when drinking from a tankard yourself, thereby enhancing the perceived taste of the beer.'
We were joined here by some jubilant audience members, who decided to tell us which celebrities we reminded them of. Dixon Bard got Hugh Laurie (I can see that), Moss Bard received Leonardo Dicaprio (pfftt in his dream), Cheatle Bard was David Tennant (its his strong jaw line) , and myself Brodie Bard, received Steve Carell (I have a beard, he has a beard, its an obvious connection really
What do you think? :
The next day we had a very simple 10 miles cycle to South Scarle on a flat and well made road – bliss.
A massive thank you must be given to Craig and Pam, along with their energetic dog Archie, their shy old dog Calem and their other dog, who I cannot remember the name of, however I internally nicknamed ‘squat dog,’ due to its proximity to the ground. I pity this dog in winter.
They were hugely supportive, after our performance at South Scarle Community Centre we chatted the night away whilst sitting in the converted church where we had performed Macbeth.
They also gave us a bed each for the night, access to showers, and some fabulous home made food. We really do appreciate this level of kindness and soft linen is the work of the Gods!
Craig also complimented this blog, so Craig is now winning.
As a traveling theatre company we swiftly pass through counties and towns, many of which we have not performed in before. In each county that we pass through we try to ensure at least some coverage, be it papers, radio or podcasts. As such it is important that we put time aside during the tour for publicity and marketing, lest we have no audience and burst into tears.
Entering into Leicester Cheatle Bard had managed to organised a BBC radio interview with Rupal on BBC Leicester. We managed to squeeze this into our day, in-between cycling to the venue, setting up for the show, and performing.
This was our third BBC radio interview of the tour and it was a pleasure to do. The first time you are confronted with doing an interview you may find yourself to be a little nervous and thus speaking a tad fast, and possibly laugh a bit too much due to being aware that everything you say is being broadcast live across the county.
Whilst we feel we are now dab hands at interviews, we still are grateful to those who take the time to make us feel relaxed and are ready to jump into our (sometimes ridiculous) HandleBard state of mind. Rupal was such a one, chatting to us like we were well accustomed friends, laughing with us and even managing to get us to do an impromptu performance.
Interview done, we popped over the road to the beautiful Leicester Guildhall where we were reunited with the venue manager Ben and his hysterical dead pan humour and perfect comic timing.
The HandleBards usually camp in the venue that they perform at, however in Leicester Moss Bard thought he would treat us to a hostel. I would like to make it clear that it is not in the nature of any HandleBard to be disapproving or picky, and as such I shall not name names. However, this hostel made Faulty Towers look like a weekend away at a 5* star spa resort with all the treats thrown in.
The linen on the beds had definitely been occupied by someone someone who had shed hair (and a lot of it), the whole place was like a sauna, the breakfast tasted like week old left overs and I am pretty sure we found blood on the walls..
We laughed a lot that night, it was either that or cry.
It was upon returning to the Guildhall the next morning that we learnt the truth of the place through Ben
Ben: ‘ Where were you staying? Up that road then first place on the left?’
Ben ‘Oh yeh, I’m pretty sure that place is a brothel.’
….The less said about that, the better. I’d like to believe that was just Ben’s fast pace and dead pan comic timing… I am sure it was just a legitimate hostel… Well I’m praying that is the case at any rate…
Winding our way to Thrumpton Hall (above) we had some beautiful weather, and encountered some atmospheric places, including the locally infamous and controversial Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station (below opposite Chealtle Bard)
At Thrumpton Hall we met award-winning novelist Miranda Seymour who also runs the beautiful estate which hosts wedding, alas the HandleBards are not planning on settling down any time soon however we would recommend it in a jiffy. A beautiful location and a very warm welcome from its owners, it is definitely worth a visit to anyone passing by/considering marriage!
As we left Thrumpton, the two nuts we had placed on our trailer ‘Old Adam’ to keep him attached to our bike came away. Dixon Bard, whilst exiting the gravel stretch that led us away from Thrumpton Hall, experienced a sudden shunting and skidded to a halt.
The trailer had once again gathered more speed than the bike, and becoming unattached had pushed into his back wheel, breaking 6 spokes on his wheel bending his wheel to an unusable shape. There was no way Dixon Bard could cycle to Newark, even if someone else took the trailer.
What were we to do? Time was ticking and we had not yet mastered the art of two men balancing on one bike which would have relieved our need for a bike per Bard. We needed all four of us to get to our next venue for a performance that evening…
…I shall leave it there, happy in the knowledge that I have just created our very own HandleBard Cliffhanger, oh the excitement!!
Our Director James Farrell visited us at The Dell on the day we twice performed Macbeth, but, sadly, had to leave the next day before we were due to perform The Comedy of Errors twice.
James joins us to make sure that we are:
1) Performing the shows the best we can.
2) Constantly improving.
3) Behaving and not embellishing bits too heavily with improvisation.
4) Not bickering too much.
…a job for those with the patience of a God.
Needless to say, like small children seeking the admiration of their parents, we hang on his every word during post show notes, hoping for only a few notes and a beaming smile.
As he could not be there for The Comedy of Errors, and he knows that we behave when we are aware he is in the audience, he attempted to send a spy.
Unfortunately for James, we saw him speaking with Imogen (his spy) the night before. Sorry James, you were rumbled.
We spent the night at the YHA in Stratford-upon-Avon, where, for the first time ever, we felt very old, as we found ourselves surrounded by their usual 19 year old backpacking clientele. I know what we do is quite intense. But seriously, how do these 19 year olds have SO MUCH energy!?
As we are a touring company we are not only actors, producers, stage managers and our own transportation. Oh no. We are also the costume mistresses. We fix, wash and iron all the costumes we own whenever we can, lest our audience stand downwind and inhale (we were grateful they had industrial sized washing machines at the YHA!).
We learnt one important lesson that day: never, never, NEVER, make Moss Bard iron all eight shirts, four trousers, six jackets and four blankets.
Callum Brodie x
Up at 5am having fallen asleep past midnight, the HandleBards brave the wind and the rain (Twelfth Night reference anyone?) with - a faulty trailer; a lot of added weight due to the merchandise we had delivered to Cottesbrooke Hall; and a 45 mile journey to complete.
We had to arrive at The Dell (The Royal Shakespeare Company’s outdoor playing space) by 12pm at the latest, to set up for a performance of Macbeth at 1pm, followed by a 40 min break (during which our director wanted to give us notes!) and then another showing at 4pm.
It is common practice at The Dell that performances shown there have no interval. It is important to note that for the Bards, the interval is not just for the audience to stretch legs and visit the facilities, but also for the actors to set all necessary props and costumes so they are ready for the second half. Backstage, we are generally quite frantic during this time period.
We would have to work out how to overcome the problems posed by performing these shows with no interval during the morning cycle itself, and just had to hope to the Shakespearean Gods that all would go well. We love a challenge.
We arrived at the Dell in time. Just. Still soaking from the 5am downpour and stopping for our trailer, ‘Adam,’ only once.
I do not entirely remember the whole early morning cycle. It is possible our brains may have wiped out the worst parts of the journey in an act of self preservation and an attempt to retain morale. For us, the details don’t matter too much…we made it!
We were joined once again by Malc Evans, who played, amongst others, his most famed song “I’m Still Moving On”, which is frequently played on BBC Radio Coventry and Warwickshire. Once again Malc worked his magic, not only entertaining those members of the public who had chosen to be our audience, but also engaging passers by, convincing them to abandon all other plans, and instead sit down and watch us, the HandleBards.
We overcame the lack of interval problem with a miraculous feat of teamwork:
Each Bard had to reset all other Bards’ costumes as we ran ‘backstage’ for our own quick changes. We grabbed audience members during speeches, which previously had their own choreography, and we made frantic (but silent) eye communication with each other on stage to ensure the smooth running of the show.
One way of us knowing that our audience has enjoyed the show is through our Twitter feed, and we were gratified to see that evening’s feed full of fantastic comments and compliments. Phew!
So whilst the first showing of Macbeth was possibly not as tight as normal, we can safely say that it was at least enjoyably ‘rugged’, as nobody spotted any problems.
So. Did the four Bards go to bed after such an intensive and long day? Of course not! It was England’s first game of the World Cup, and we went to the Black Swan (Dirty Duck) to watch it.
So strong was the patriotism shown from Moss Bard that he did not move from the chair he sat in for the entire match. His eyes were shut in what I can only imagine was ferocious concentration as he listened to the commentary. And now and then, with his mouth open and his head lolling on the back of his chair, a tremendously supportive snore issued from his face. Wonderful stamina that man.
Callum Brodie x
Week three… the hectic week!
Brodie Bard (myself) was carrying our trailer, Old Adam, towards Cottesbrooke via a cycle path that ran parallel to an old train line. Suddenly I heard a clinking sound. My pedals locked, and as Old Adam pushed forwards into my bike, it shunted sideways, skidded a few meters, and I was thrown from to the ground.
This managed to happen in a matter of seconds, and all in front of the only person we had seen for miles; an elderly gentlemen who was painting a disused train.
He paused for effect before he murmered ”Well that was a tad dramatic. Wasn’t it.”
Smiling (whilst internally being amazed that the worst thing to have come out of my mouth during the incident was “Oh bugger!”), I turned to the man who was grinning in a way that I would regard as none-too-friendly, and replied: “Yes, if I am going to fall, I’m going to make a song and dance of it.” Sometimes, I am just too politely British, and can’t switch off the performer.
The area indicated here is where the bike and the trailer attach. We had put so much weight on Old Adam that the attachment had simply bent, and the nut and bolt had unscrewed. This meant that the trailer had come unattached from my bike, and, as we were going downhill, had picked up more speed than the bike. The arm of the trailer had then planted itself into my back wheel, locking the wheel and my pedals - causing the ‘semi-dramatic’ crash to occur.
As I mentioned in our first blog, we really are doing this whole tour under our own steam. We have no back up vehicle and currently cannot be sure whether we will get to all of our venues and shows on time.
Here, we had a few hours to get to Cottesbrooke and still many many miles to cover…
Moss Bard, being the genius he is, dived into our ‘Man Bag’ (full of nuts, bolts, screws and the odd spanner) and managed to create a makeshift attachment from these nuts, bolts, and some of the bits of metal we use to set up the tents we use in our plays. We have now renamed Paul. He is now ‘Mr T’.
Having to stop every five miles or so to make sure the problem does not occur again, whilst also traveling over ground so bumpy that it puts the traveler in mind of when they went through acne, we very slowly reached our venue with an hour before the show to set up. Phew.
Cottesbrooke was well worth the hellish journey. A beautiful venue with stunning views, it had a lovely community atmosphere, with ticket sales going to help repair the local church.
We were also joined by the wonderful Malc Evans, who would go on to play with us at four of our performances. He was wonderful, and had a real talent at engaging with the audience and getting them into the perfect ‘HandleBard’ mindset for the show.
My personal favourite was his rendition of ‘I’m the King of the Swingers’, where he wondered around the audience and managed to get many of them to do their best ape impressions along with the music. Epic.
Another wonderful thing about this show, the cherry on top as it were, was that our merchandise had finally arrived! Needless to say, we felt like a budget (or better?) One Direction, as we proudly and excitedly presented the bags and badges that we now sell at each performance.
Please don’t hesitate to come up to us after the show and spread Bard love by purchasing and displaying our new merchandise on your person. Just look how good Tom looks:
Callum Brodie x
We woke up to our humble bedroom of the night before, Elstow Abbey:
A standard way to start the day, I am sure you will agree…
Having the day to ourselves and being around 350 miles through our 2000 mile tour, it seemed sensible to take a moment to give our bicycles some much needed tender loving care.
Our bikes are Eastway ST1’s, but Cheatle Bard calls his ‘Tiffany’ (finally, we have some female company!).
We absolutely love our Eastways. They are lovely to look at, very light weight, come equipped with high quality parts, and, very importantly for us, are incredibly strong. They have no trouble pulling very heavy trailers behind them on a daily basis, AND, to date, we’ve not had a single puncture on them.
They were sourced for us by our fantastic merchandise sponsor LUV Handles, The Bike Boutique, along with a whole range of wonderful cycling related goodies:
As the HandleBards are incapable of functioning as separate entities, we set up a production line sort of thing for our bike maintence, with each Bard focusing on specific bike parts to get the job done well.
Whilst we did indeed get the job done, I would not say working as one ‘Bard Unit’ is always the most efficient way of going about a job. Four men on four bikes works, but four men on one bike is just a logistical nightmare…
Here’s a little video insight into this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uq9LhaeFdvg
However by the end, our bikes looked as good as the first day we lay eyes on them.
Ladies and Gentlemen. May I introduce the newest member of the HandleBards team: Duke Menaphon:
Notice his sleek and sturdy exterior, his elegant fittings, and his regal wheels. Duke, we salute you.
As a side note, Dixon Bard put his foot down when we suggested getting another female trailer: “We couldn’t give the new trailer a female name! Not after Penny… It wouldn’t have felt right.” And we respected his wishes. However, we are also now desperate for some female company.
Throughout Week Two, we have been lucky with the sun. We’ve had beautiful cycles, large audiences and blue skies. In fact, we went a little sun crazed and basked in its glory without really thinking of its power.
This is the consequence:
I hang my head in shame for this lack of foresight. As, last year, the ridiculous tan lines we had accumulated lasted 6 months after tour finished.
It reminds me of the song “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” by Kenny Chesney. There’s one particular lyric: “…she’s even kind of crazy about my farmer’s tan”. It gives me hope that our bad tan lines shall be the latest in sexual attraction. If so - Hello ladies…
So moving swiftly on from our exquisite two-tone skin, we’ve cycled on to Elstow Abbey Middle School where we were greeted by staff member John.
We were honored to perform at the school, which brought our largest audience yet; 262 school children aged 11-13.
Whilst our version of Macbeth may have been a new experience for those watching, performing to a school was indeed a learning point for us as we had never done it before and were unsure of what to expect. Would the students be bored? Would they heckle? Would they be too shy to come up on stage? Would our production of Macbeth work inside?
We also had to think on our feet to cut the two-hour play down to just over an hour, which was the time slot allocated to us. We were not aware of this slot allocation until the night before, so we had fun testing our editing ability on stage and seeing if fellow Bards could keep up with the swift and sudden changes. We are very pleased to say all went well and that we now feel ready to perform this show in any setting, and to any age group.
The school was positively charming, the students were not only engaged with the show itself, but laughed and applauded each of their teachers (who we managed to incorporate into the show!).
It was clear to the Bards that the student/staff relationship was incredibly good, and that this school had a perfect atmosphere for creativity and education. Sadly, as the education system in the area is changing from a three-tier system, to a two-tier one, this middle school is being closed at the end of this term. A huge shame.
However, the school staff, being the wonderful people they are, are therefore arranging as many fabulous treats and experiences for their students that it can. One such outing includes going to London to see the smash-hit musical Wicked next week, which all us Bards are incredibly envious of.
We were honored that the Bards were seen as one of the beneficial ‘treats’ that could be offered to the students, and thankful for the new experience. It was a treat for us that after the show many of the students came up to ask us about our tour, the Shakespeare plays we perform, and about theatre in general.
If you would like the HandleBards to perform at your school, we would love the opportunity to do it again, so please email us on email@example.com.
Week Two (Part One): “She should have died hereafter; there would have been a time for such a word.” Macbeth
The start of Week Two was a time of mourning…
…Penny, our beloved trailer, who, over the course of two tours, covered 1000+ miles with us, sadly could not be fixed.
A moment of silence if you please. If you are wearing a helmet or hat, kindly remove it please for…
The HandleBards’ ode to Penny.
This year we are performing 72 shows at 60+ venues.
The HandleBards work closely with the venues they visit. This being our second year means we have created a relationship with those locations we are returning to.
Without the wonderful individuals and families that run and manage the events at each venue, we could not have the great audience numbers we have experienced, the support we have encountered, and, very importantly, the hospitality that allows us to shower from time to time.
We wish to thank the incredible people that we have had the pleasure to work with, and to show you some of the beautiful places we have cycled to and through.
Thank you to My Good Man William who kicked off this year’s tour with some incredible music at Polesden Lacey, and to Vicky and Rick from Cobham who housed us that night. To Christine at the Sustainability Centre, and to Gail and her family at Larmer Tree Gardens.
A special shout out must be made to Dark Island, and Dave, who blessed our first show of Macbeth by also wearing a Kilt (we thank you!).
I feel it is also important to not forget those pesky and upstaging peacocks at Larmer Tree Gardens, who managed to join in with the show by screeching at alarmingly apt moments. Most memorably, yelling alongside Moss Bard as his Lady Macbeth died. Seriously, whilst it was funny, their timing was also uncanny.
To Paul and Claire from the Painswick Rococo Gardens, where we had our first 100+ audience of the tour.
Paul also inspired us to take up a scientific experiment, which, I am sure, shall last us the tour:
Hypothesis: ‘Does the same local ale or local cider taste better when drunk from a tankard (glass, pewter, or ceramic,) than a standard pint glass?’
Method: To painstakingly try the best local ale or cider from each area visited from the named vessel above.
Conclusion: Yet to be established. Feel free to email us (firstname.lastname@example.org) with your personal preference. We’ve got a poll going and everything…
We would also like to thank Paul and Claire for letting us use their shower, thereby allowing us to wash the beans off Moss Bard’s shirt and prevent him from being ostracised from normal society due to the smell.
*If you don’t understand the beans comment above, come and see Macbeth; Heinz shall never quite be the same again!
Finally today, we would like to thank Nigel and everyone at The Fleece Inn who showed us such wonderful hospitality. The Fleece Inn is a magical venue, a historic pub in Bretforton, which is owned by the National Trust. They programme an array of events, have a huge stock of local ales, and do fantastic food. We really do recommend visiting.
It is here we were introduced to the ceramic tankard and our first ever sip of proper cider. Currently, the tankard is topping the ranks in our scientific experiment. The Fleece Inn is also where we discovered our new favourite song: ‘Streets of London’, originally by Ralf McTell, but sung to us by our musician for the evening, Collin, who got our entire audience singing along.
It is no word of a lie to say we have been singing it at the top of our voices whilst cycling down A roads ever since.