As some of you may have noticed the HandleBards have a stock photo of us in our costumes in the same position in front of each venue. As everyone will know, week three was a week of scorching sunshine. In Durham we combined these two features as we left Crook Hall with a photo of us in just our underwear and socks (we made it sexy). We managed to do this by deftly dodging the paying public wandering around the grounds, whilst at the same time grabbing an employee and getting her to take said photo. In hindsight this may have been a little more frightening to her than we anticipated, so if she reads this, thank you and sorry.
On Tuesday we travelled to the Bowes Museum, a beautiful structure originally created to rival the V&A in London for a free show of Twelfth Night. Once again we were blown away with the reception we received during the show, and generosity from the audience members who came to talk to us after. As the Bowes Museum had a public park we managed to camp by the venue, and for the first time ever on the tour, four grown mature and sophisticated men, (us) feared for our lives as unknown dog walkers, joggers, and the occasional drunk ambled past our tents in the dead of night. For one night, we felt we had camped in a very budget thriller movie, as the mundane became potential fearful events whilst the night drew in. Myself (Brodie) was even woken by my name being repeated in urgent whispers by my other three cast members in their PJ’s after they suddenly developed the urge to defend our bikes by moving their location under the cover of darkness, and needed my help.
We woke up on Wednesday, alive and with all of our limbs (possibly because Tom had slept with the tent mallet by his side in case of potential intruders) and set off for Bolton Castle.
Our journey to Bolton Castle was our greatest challenge yet. Whilst only 25 miles we had to brave the Yorkshire Dales in the heat of the day on bikes not suited for the terrain. Our bikes are the wonderful hybrid Specialised series, which are light and fast paced. However, mountain bikes would have been preferable for this journey. For me, this was an incredibly uncomfortable trip, which felt very dangerous. The ground underfoot was dusty and covered in rocks and potholes, if you didn’t peddle at quite a fast speed the bike would skid and fall. Even then, if you peddled too fast and turned sharply - the bike would skid and fall. I was just grateful I wasn’t the one pulling the 55-kilo trailer on the continuous incline that was the town of Reeth. The scenery however, was stunning.
As we were used by this point to cycling journeys of 40 miles followed by a show we were confident this one would not take long. We were wrong. After five hours we reached Bolton castle, much of our speed was hindered by the fact we had to cycle ahead of the trailer, dismount, run back, and help whoever was carrying the trailer at that point by pushing it up the hill. It was 3pm and absolutely baking when we met Katie the venue manager, who took one look at our sweaty appearances, took pity on us and lead us to the canteen for a cold drink.
Katie was absolutely wonderful, giving us half an hour to compose ourselves before showing us around the castle, which included the bedroom of Mary Queen of Scots. The area in which we would be performing in turned out to be the castle’s courtyard surrounded by its semi preserved walls, battlements and a working portcullis which was lowered as we set up.
After the heavy day’s cycling we were grateful we would not have to strain our voices to be heard in the space, and the atmospheric surrounding which was intriguing in itself added wonderfully to the show, which had a great turn out. At the end of each show Paul Moss talks to the audience to let them know a little more about us. After announcing the fact that we had gallantly managed to cycle to Bolton via Reeth, an older man in the crowd laughed and later told us that that journey was nothing and he did similar everyday. I must admit that on hearing these words I was impressed that the entire cast remained smiling, and no-one broke down in tears.
Tom, the son of the Lord of Bolton Castle, told us that instead of camping in the castle’s grounds, we were welcome to stay in the castle. On our own. The whole of Bolton Castle, with lowered portcullis and wood fire, would for one night be the HandleBards’ castle. We wished we had our own flag to fly from the battlements.
I (Brodie) was turning 24 when the clock struck midnight, and with the chocolate cake my family had sent to the venue in advance, cider audience members had given to us, and our costumes donned, we headed to the roof to overlook the Dales.
This was probably one of the most memorable starts to a birthday I have ever had and I would personally like to thank Tom and Katie for making this possible.
The next day we cycled 50 miles through the Dales on our way to Hoghton Tower. We fuelled ourselves by stopping at a tearoom in Aysgarth Falls, where we ate all the food, which helped us do the trip in 7 hours.
A special shout out must be made to Tom Dixon who managed to cycle up a killer hill, which ran for half a mile at a 16% incline, whilst pulling the trailer. He did all this without stopping and managed to keep his top on.
We arrived at Hoghton Tower near Preston to perform both Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night. Here we met the Brothers of Swing who would join us in performing Twelfth Night. These cheeky chappies were brilliant at charming an audience, and transformed the scenes we incorporated them into, adding to the comedy of the whole situation. The famous Orsino speech ‘If music be the food of love…’ was accompanied by an a cappella version of ‘Come Fly With Me’ by Frank Sinatra. They nonchalantly strutted through the audience, until the words ‘Enough no more, tis not as sweet now as it was before…’ halted them in their tracks and with muttered words of outrage they reluctantly sat down with the chuckling audience.
Helena and Tom, the daughter and son of Sir Bernard of Hoghton Tower then gave us a tour of the grounds and house. The architecture and design inside the buildings was exquisite, and the history of the house rich. Hoghton Tower was where King James I is said to have knighted a particularly tasty loin of beef during a meal in 1617. This is now why we call it ‘Sirloin Steak’.
The next day, the 21st of July, the HandleBards assembled and began their journey to the Monastery in Manchester for a performance of Romeo and Juliet in one of our first indoor venues since Glasgow. The 40 mile journey went smoothly and we met the 25-piece ‘Eagley Brass Band’ who would be performing with us.
A very professional image in matching uniform, the band played with expert skill, which reverberated off the walls of the monastery beautifully. Though the actors had to lower their volume whilst performing due to the echoey nature of the acoustics, the band seemed to overpower even physics, as ever note played could be heard perfectly as the sheer power of 25 instruments sung out.
This was an incredible week for the HandleBards. In one week we had survived the Dales, owned a castle for a night, been in the room where James I had knighted some beef, and now were being accompanied by a 25 piece brass band in a monastery. Surreal and wonderful and full of hard work we look to week four.