Gardner + wife logo
Tickets About Us Our Shows Newsletter Home
Our Shows
The Owl who was Afraid of the Dark
Playing PJ Live Arts by Jaya One 28th February - 13th March, 2016
Performed by The Handlebards
Presented by Gardner & Wife Theatre
Produced by Natalie Chong

Download video: MP4 format | Ogg format | WebM format


On a Midsummer’s night, four young lovers find themselves wrapped in the mischievous arms of an enchanted forest where sprites lurk and fairies rule. With a feuding Fairy King and Queen, Quince and his friends presenting their play within a play, and chief mischief-maker Puck on hand, games of fantasy, love and dreams ensue in Shakespeare’s most beguiling comedy.

Touring to Malaysia for the first time, after traveling the length of the UK carrying all set, props, costumes on just four bicycles, the HandleBards play all 22 characters in their all-male production of one of Shakespeare's most popular works.

CASTSIMON SANCHEZ pictureMATTHEW SEAGER Matthew Seager is delighted to be joining the Handlebards for this tour, although he's slightly nervous about his cycling capabilities (as long as he's allowed stabilisers he'll be fine). After graduating from Leed University he trained at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, graduating in September 2014. Whilst at drama school he performed at the Tron Theatre and The Arches in Glasgow, as well as at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh. Since then, he's worked with HighTide Festival Theatre, and performed at the Albany Theatre.

Callum is trilled to be back with the HandleBards. He has previously been Associate Producer for international political production THEATRE UNCUT (Young Vic, London),won the Stage's Student Choice Award for SEEING DOUBLE (Edinburgh Fringe) and raised 6,000Euro for local charities with MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (Escapade Productions). Trained at Circomedia (contemporary circus and physical theatre), Callum specializes in devising and directing.

Calum trained in Acting at The Arts University Bournemouth for three years. Since graduating he has appeared in many theatre productions - most recently he has played Macbeth with London Contemporary Theatre, on a UK tour. He is incredibly excited to be a new HandleBard, and hopes that one day Tom and Callum will stop reminiscing endlessly about last year's tour, because he just doesn't get any of the references.

During last year's HandleBards tour, Tom was so good at cycling that he earned himself the nickname 'Thighs of Thunder'. Proud of his new title, he was devastated when the tour ended and his legs proceeded to shrink, leading to the replacement name of 'Chicken Legs' and a loss of his pride. Tom is excited to be back on the road again although would prefer the name 'Calves of Steel' for this tour. Tom's previous acting credits include 24 HOUR MUSICAL (The Crucible, Sheffield) and roles such as Alan in EQUUS, Peter in PETER PAN and Ren in FOOTLOOSE.

About The Handlebards
Since 2013, the HandleBards have clocked-up over 5,000 miles by cycling around the world to perform Shakespeare. Described by none other than Sir Ian McKellen as 'uproariously funny', they set the world on wheels with their unique brand of extremely energetic, charmingly chaotic, environmentally-friendly cycle-powered theatre. They’re currently touring “Hamlet” and “A Midsummer Night's Dream” around India, Singapore, Myanmar and Malaysia. They’re also preparing their 2016 UK summer cycling tour, when, for the first time ever, they'll have not one, but two troupes on the road.
Production/stage cordinator - Wei Hock
Lighting Designer - Yusman Mokhtar


The all-male HandleBards quartet do bicycle-powered Shakespeare in the open air, cycling 1,500 miles on this UK tour and towing behind them all the set, props and costume they need. In a sustainability challenge that also involves using no energy from the National Grid either on stage or en route, everything they use has to be something that could genuinely be found on a campsite.The result is gloriously eccentric and very, very funny. The troupe plunders every kind of inventive way to change or add characters, from disembodied jackets on broom handles to audience participation. There are myriad uses for a windbreak. It’s beautifully staged tomfoolery, fast-moving and very physical. There is something ridiculously droll about men in knee-length socks doing a sidling movement with the feet that indicates when they are flying fairies.The quarrel between the lovers exploits the outdoor space to full advantage, with a full-bearded Helena using the fight tactics of a man, and picnics raided for ammunition. Yet the triumph of all this is that it remains wholly true to Shakespeare. They know how to speak it. The text is delivered with clarity and robustness, every word heard in the open air and no line squandered.And more than that, amid the mayhem there are flashes of just what it might have been like in Shakespeare’s day with male actors playing the women. The HandleBards do Hamlet as well and are on their way up to the Edinburgh Fringe. What an undertaking it is.


The Handlebards have got their branding sorted, but for the uninitiated, the hook is thus: the all-male company of four actors ride the country on bicycles, carrying all their props and costumes with them, and they wear brightly coloured knee socks. The exercise has paid off. The show is running and jumping from start to finish, with exuberant stage fighting and some astonishingly quick costume changes. They need to be quick, since the four take on every role themselves, even though the play often demands five or more characters onstage. The set and props are imaginative, the costumes straight out of the dressing up box; it very much feels like playing. The kids in the audience are thrilled, the adults aren’t far behind them.The company do a good job of taking some of Shakespeare’s most well-known bland characters and giving them personality. Hippolyta’s prudish streak clashing with a lewd Theseus is a pleasing take on two characters often left by the wayside. Hermia, who in other productions is often neglected in favour of the madder, badder Helena, is also developed well, with a hilarious penchant for the dramatic. Lysander remains a bit of a default male lead, and more could have been done to differentiate him from Demetrius, but it’s nice to see the ladies take centre stage. All four actors do an excellent job of playing women as farcically as they do the Rude Mechanicals.The Mechanicals themselves do not stray in characterisation far from the norms, but the prop work used to bring all of them to the stage is excellent and easy to follow. The real highlight, however, is in the choices on how to play the fairies. Each actor hops up and down and flutters their hands like wings, like a five-year-old might. It’s a stroke of genius, as is the quick bit of wrangling that turns two audience members into fairies when required. Despite the silliness, Titania’s dramatic monologue is soaring and glorious, and although such a dramatic note is not reached again, it shows the Handlebards can get the job done.


Attending a performance by the Handlebards is not like going to any other show at the Fringe. After making the trek out to the Botanic Gardens, one is directed to a wide open lawn where the audience sit with picnics on camp chairs and rugs. A strange set made up of sheets, bicycle parts and camping equipment has been set up, in front of which two young men play traditional music on fiddle and guitar while the four actors bounce around chatting to the audience and each other. On a fortunately fairly dry and warm Edinburgh evening, it’s a beautiful setting for a play like A Midsummer Night’s Dream.And this is a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream unlike any other. Every role is played by four men, so Helena and Bottom are played by the same actor, Titania and Demetrius by the same actor, Puck and Hermia… you get the point. In the opening scene, and through many scenes of the play, the characters onstage at one time far outnumber the actors. They use this to their advantage however, with actors flinging off one item of costume (which is held by another actor who interacts with the empty jacket or floating hat as if it’s a human being) and dashing across the stage to pull on a different costume and become another character. It’s a very clever way to turn a potentially severe problem with putting on these plays into one of their biggest attributes.Perhaps the strongest part of this production are the fairies. Each has their own fairy-like movement which they continue constantly while onstage, so they are never still even for a second. Oberon pliés up and down and bounds in a rather camp manner across the stage when saying something grand and impressive; Titania seductively circles her multi-coloured plastic wings with her hands on her hips; and Puck shimmies frantically like a dancing bee, which is a particularly nice contrast with his gruff Cockney voice. The “love in idleness” flower is a small purple umbrella painted on the inside, and it’s “juice” is poured out of a watering can, giving the actors an excellent excuse to soak each other as they got rather carried away with the love potion.


A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Handlebards, Crook Hall and Gardens, DurhamDIRECTORS James Farrell and Emma Sampson begin their programme notes for The Handlebards’ summer tour thus: “When four cyclists decide to undertake a 1500 mile ride across the UK, we tend to think they’re a little crazy. When those cyclists decide to tour two Shakespeare plays and carry around 150 kilograms of extra weight with them, we think they’re downright foolish.”Until two years ago, I would have agreed. But having seen these pedalling players perform on each of their two previous tours, in summer 2013 and 2014, I was determined not to miss out on completing the hat-trick.The Handlebards are simply hilarious. Superb. Unmissable. This year they are touring Hamlet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was our pleasure to see the latter in such an idyllic setting.There are two new Handlebards for this summer; and Calum Hughes-McIntosh and Matthew Seager add a new spice to founder members Callum Brodie and Tom Dixon. The running (should that be cycling?) jokes were all there: the cast frantically dashing around playing far too many characters all at once; dragging audience members onto stage to make up the numbers and enjoying playing women a little too much.In MSND the physical comedy was outrageously bawdy, much to the pleasure of what, I’m delighted to report, looked the lads’ biggest Crook Hall audience yet. The tour is in the region until the weekend. On yer bike and get there. Details: