Peculius

"I will not be a common man because it is my right to be an uncommon man. I will stir the smooth sands of monotony." Peter O'Toole

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Week Three (Part Three): “Out, damned spot!” Macbeth

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

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Week Three (Part Two): “Better three hours too soon than a minute too late.” The Merry Wives of Windsor

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.

Win.

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

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Week Three (Part One): “Music do I hear?” Richard II

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

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Week Two (Part Three): ‘‘We know what we are, but know not what we may be.’’ Hamlet

We woke up to our humble bedroom of the night before, Elstow Abbey:

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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 Boutiquealong with a whole range of wonderful cycling related goodies:

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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.

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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…

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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.

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Week Two (Part Two): “Learn, good soul,
 to think our former state a happy dream.” A Midsummer Night’s Dream

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 info@peculius.com.

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Penny's Funeral

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.

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Week one (Part Three): “Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises, Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.” The Tempest

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 (info@peculius.com) 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.

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Week One (Part Two): “Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?” Twelfth Night

There are times on tour when a series of events occur that make you feel like nobody would believe them if you wrote them down.

Such a series of events begins at the picturesque Courts Garden in Holt where we were shown hospitality by the wonderful Sonya, Peony, Paris and Paul.

As a side note, these are four truly wonderful people that anyone would be lucky to meet. Not only kind, but also hilarious and a little bit bonkers. We love these qualities in people because we feel that we resonate with them. We cannot express our gratitude enough.

 

But back to the story: At this venue the heavens opened on our rendition of ‘Macbeth’.  Everything was soaked. Costumes, tents, audience and actors. To our amazement and joy the 80+ audience stuck everything out and gave us a tremendous applause at the end. There was an added feeling of solidarity at the fact that both audience and actors had braved the storm together and laughed the whole way through the show.

As we scurried around trying to pack down the set and fan our kilts dry, an audience member called Fiona came up to us and asked what our favorite type of cake was.

The answer from the Bards was unanimous: “If you can get it right then nothing beats a proper fruitcake”.

Two days later, when performing ‘The Comedy of Errors’ 40 miles north from the Courts Garden, we were amazed to see Fiona sitting in the front row. She handed us the yummiest fruitcake we had ever tasted. Backstage we consumed a quarter of it there and then.

However, the Gods of Gastromy were not on our side. Having ceremoniously placed the cake on the back on Cheatle Bard’s trailer, we hit a turn at speed down Coopers Hill in Gloucestershire (famed for its annual cheese rolling event in May), and to Moss Bard’s horror, the cake flew from the trailer and split in two as it hit the concrete.

The bikes and trailer were going at such speed, that we could not stop and claim the fruitcake.  It is no lie to say we were devastated at the loss, and obviously would not have written about it if the story stops there. However, it doesn’t…

That evening we reached The Fleece Inn in Bretforton. This is a wonderfully historic pub that sells a fabulous local ale called ‘Pigs Ear’ (after having a few we noticed each pint became more delicious then the last and we slept very well that night…).

During our interval here, a lady we had never met walked up to Cheatle Bard and says “I hear you are partial to fruit cake”. She then hands him a bag and walks away. Backstage we open the bag and find not just any old fruitcake, but THE fruitcake, perfectly wrapped in its original foil, its two halves joined back together.

Instantly we started asking who in our group tweeted about the loss of the fruitcake, or facebooked about the loss of the fruitcake, having sworn we would never tell anyone via our social media, as we felt so guilty about it. Slowly we realised that none of us had mentioned the incident to anyone who had been at our shows, and we naturally did the sensible thing; we freaked out!

Let us rewind four hours to the fateful hill where that fruitcake learnt to fly, before proving that gravity works.

A little further down the fill, at the front of the pelaton, Dixon Bard and myself, Brodie Bard, pulled into a layby to wait for our colleagues. As we were waiting, a van pulled up and a man stepped out who, after a small conversation, we found was called David.

He asked what we were doing, and when we let him know, he told us that if we went to Burger Star in Cheltenham we would be given four free drinks to help sustain us on our travels. We thanked him and moved on, but not before Moss Bard and Cheatle Bard had joined us and told us of the fruitcake’s demise.

Burger Star was the perfect place to lift our spirits. A very quirky and fun place. We gratefully accepted our free drinks, and purchased some much needed chips. David had phoned ahead to let the guys know to expect us, and we let them admire our flyer, whilst we admired the photos on the walls. One pictured the Queen visiting the place, which I really hope is real.

Fast-forward again to the Fleece Inn, Bretforton: Freaked out during the interval, we found a letter next to the fruitcake. Scared and confused the HandleBards unfolded it, huddled together and began to read.

It turned out that David, whilst getting in to his van, had overheard Moss Bard’s tale of the loss of the fruitcake. Driving up the hill, he had spotted the cake - one half on the road, the other protruding from a bush. The lady who approached Cheatle Bard with the cake at The Fleece Inn was his wife, Linda, and they knew where to find us because of the flyer we had left at Burger Star.

So Fiona, we are so pleased to announce that the HandleBards, overjoyed to be reunited with their fruitcake, consumed it all. It was delicious, and it is safe to say the cake had a little HandleBard adventure of its own. The kindness of humans is remarkable sometimes!

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Week One (Part One): “And in this mist, at all adventures go!” - The Comedy of Errors

We are four actor-producers who have been preparing for this tour since November 2013, and it feels amazing to have finally embarked on our trip.

In the past week we have pedaled through 8 counties, cycled 326 miles, experienced the hospitality of 6 families and broken two trailers…already!  

Oh, and people have liked our shows (phew!).

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Okay. So lets start with bad news… This concerns our trailer, Penny:

As I sit outside the Mill Arts Centre in Banbury a week into tour, sipping on a cappuccino and generally just putting my legs up, the other Bards are scouring the town high and low for a new wheel-bearing for Penny, who sadly seems to be on her last wheels.

Until now, Penny has carried all of our costumes, one of the massive tents we use for the set and various props that cannot fit onto our other trailer, Old Adam.

Yesterday, her bearing broke, which basically means (for those of you as technically minded as myself) that, if we continue cycling, the friction caused by the wheel rubbing against the axle would result in a fire, and the HandleBards would be responsible for burning down the whole of the UK…

Needless to say our insurance does not cover this, so until this problem is solved we cannot use Penny. Either we need to think up a solution to this problem very very quickly (ideally before our next show!), or we shall be performing Macbeth and The Comedy Of Errors without half the set!

This is a genuine problem, which we are working to overcome, and once we know the solution I shall let you know. However, being the relaxed Bard of the group, I am not worried. I feel we faced much worse last year. I have faith in the scouring abilities of my Bard colleagues. And besides, they serve good coffee here, so it’s not a terrible place to be stranded.

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I’ll keep you posted,

Callum Brodie x

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The HandleBards’ Handbook for Beautifully British and Bonkers Touring Theatre.

The HandleBards are back in the saddle with their 2000-mile adventure, and to celebrate we thought we would write a blog to let everyone know what happens behind the scenes.  So this is the prologue to the HandleBards’ Handbook of beautifully British and bonkers touring theatre.

This whole trip is one big gamble, and it could go either way. We have no support vehicle. We have no understudies. We have a show pretty much everyday and must cycle the entire route carrying all of the props, set and costumes with us. As of right now, we cannot guarantee everyone shall survive (dramatic!), but we can guarantee that whatever happens, we shall let you know about it via this blog.

So keep your eyes peeled to join us on our adventure!

And one more thing - three months is quite a lot of time in the saddle. So we’d love you all to send us some challenges/tasks to do on the road to keep us entertained! Send them to info@peculius.com or post them here, on Facebook or Twitter and we’ll blog all about them here!

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