REVIEW: The HandleBards present Hamlet, Crook Hall, Durham

The HandleBards performing Hamlet.
The HandleBards performing Hamlet.

Hamlet’s not a comedy? Tell that to my aching face.

I laughed so hard it hurt as The HandleBards gave the Shakespearean tragedy their comedy treatment.

The four-strong all-male troupe is cycling 1,500 miles across the UK, stopping off to put on rip-roaring performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hamlet.

Their unique take on the Bard’s work has to be seen to be believed.

No one could accuse them of not taking their craft seriously, but they have a delightful daftness that is sure to make you choke on your picnic.

Set within the picturesque surroundings of Durham’s Crook Hall, Callum Brodie, Calum Hughes-McIntosh, Matthew Seager and Tom Dixon put on an utterly unforgettable production of Hamlet.

Hughes-McIntosh took on the title role while the others portrayed multiple characters, signalling the swap with a quick costume change and the ding of a tiny bicycle bell.

Hughes-McIntosh was enigmatic in the demanding role, Brodie’s take on Ophelia was wonderfully quirky, Seager’s drunken Queen Gertrude was hilarious and Dixon’s many faces and voices were incredible – he had me in stitches even when I could only see his eyes.

The use of bicycle and camping-themed props was brilliantly inventive, from the way the King’s ghost was controlled by a pedal-powered mechanism to the camping mugs for boobs and the cloud that hung over Hamlet’s head from an umbrella strapped to his back.

Everything about the HandleBards’ performance was captivating. They have a wonderful silliness that takes Shakespeare to a whole new level and an obvious passion that really shines.

The HandleBards performing Hamlet.

The HandleBards performing Hamlet.

A couple of scenes left Seager and Brodie playing more than one character and having conversations with themselves, and the way they quickly jumped to and fro, swapping dresses for moustaches and changing their voices created fantastic comedy chaos.

And the fight scenes with spoons and ladles for weapons were hilarious.

The actors hold hats and costumes in the air to fill the place of ‘missing’ characters, but when things get a little too much, they enlist the help of audience members.

Even I was given my moment to shine tonight, and it was certainly exciting.

They have a wonderful silliness that takes Shakespeare to a whole new level and an obvious passion that really shines.

Hamlet’s famous ‘to be or not to be’ speech was a crowning moment in the show. Hughes-McIntosh recited it with fervour as Brodie excitedly read Fifty Shades of Grey and Dixon tripped and fell through the scenery – I thought I’d pass out from laughing so hard.

Even if you don’t think you’re a Shakespeare fan, see these guys in action. Their absurd comic-capers will have you rolling in the aisles – or over your picnic blankets, at least.

Five stars all round!

The HandleBards are at the Cycle Hub, in Newcastle on Saturday with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Click here to book tickets.

Click here to read my review of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Crook Hall, Durham.

The guys are also heading to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with listed and secret shows. Click here to find out more.

The HandleBards performing Hamlet.

The HandleBards performing Hamlet.

Click here to find out more about the HandleBards and see where they’re heading next on their tour.

Twitter: @vickinewmanjp

The HandleBards performing Hamlet.

The HandleBards performing Hamlet.