Review: HandleBards MacBeth at York Theatre Royal

Handlebards are back. After their hilarious version of Romeo and Juliet the company returns with an all female Macbeth.

By Angie Millard

The theatre group call themselves ‘cycling Shakespearean actors’ who carry sets, props and costumes on the back of their bikes, performing environmentally sustainable plays with the help of an electric van for transporting the bulky stuff. They present more than two hours of anarchy and irreverent theatre which is as always a delight.

The plot of Macbeth, when analysed, is certainly improbable but full of dramatic opportunities which Handlebards exploit to the full. However, this is sometimes at the expense of story-telling. It begins with the three weird sisters who tell Macbeth he will become king but issue lots of other nuggets of information along the way. They enter playing percussion style  instruments and turn the witches’ rhymes into song.

Throughout the emphasis is on movement: tapping, stamping and frenetic dancing link the scenes. Instead of horses the characters mime motorbikes, they zoom on and off the acting space using just the handlebars and make appropriate noises. Sometimes, the scene changes from moorland to castle and someone mounts a bicycle at the side and uses a kazoo for musical accompaniment. All good fun and very Fringe Theatre.

Kathryn Perkins mainly plays a tough Macbeth throughout while Natalie Simone and Jenny Smith are all the other characters. 

The audience loved the energy and unexpected comedy produced by using caricature and camp humour. Natalie Simione is superb in these quirky roles: tall and long limbed, she is flexible and statuesque while Jenny Smith manages some acrobatic and very funny death contortions. Emma Sampson certainly has directed the ensemble work perfectly.

My one criticism lies in the purpose of the production, it certainly entertained but bore scant relationship to the Scottish play. I couldn’t help but wonder what the younger members of the audience made of the evening. The words of the bard were largely inaudible and the plot had become a vehicle for silly jokes. 

I left their previous production of Romeo and Juliet with far more enthusiasm for Handlebards and hope their next production of Twelfth Night has more substance and less circus.

MacBeth was performed at York Theatre Royal by HandleBards on Tuesday 25 January 2022. It was directed by Emma Sampson. The Designer was Lucy Green. The Composer and Musical Director was Guy Hughes and the Choreographer was Lucy Bishop. The Fight Director was Tom Jordan.