Fringe review: The Tempest

The Tempest in a tent. Four actors playing 20-plus characters. Hilarious, high-speed, on-stage costume changes. Could Shakespeare be any more fun? ★★★★★

Mar 05, 2020, updated Mar 05, 2020

This is the wacky world of The HandleBards, a theatre company of cycling thesps who tour their shows on bicycles, paniers stuffed with costumes and props.

The HandleBards took Adelaide by storm last year with their high-spirited all-male production of Twelfth Night, which became a real word-of-mouth success. This year it’s the women’s turn and the madcap antics are just as hilarious.

For those unfamiliar with The Tempest’s plot, it goes something like this: magician-cum-royal-bloke Prospero (fabulously played by Lucy Green, whose zany Duke is both entertaining and endearing) has been stuck on a desert island for years with his daughter Miranda (the impressively versatile Katie Sherrard, who switches character, and accent, with great ease and aplomb). It’s all thanks to Prospero’s dastardly brother Antonio, who set them both adrift in “a rotten carcass of a boat” so that he could take over as the Duke of Milan.

Prospero somehow intuits that his brother, accompanied by the King of Naples and his son Ferdinand, will be high-tailing it past the island on a ship. He conjures up a storm (delightfully portrayed with some low-tech puppetry) and the shipwreck survivors are washed up on the shore of the island.

With the help of his spirit-aide Ariel (performed with just the right amount of mischief and mirth by the highly talented Tika Mu’tamir), Prospero creates much chaos and confusion, finally revealing himself as the usurped Duke. He forgives his brother, blesses the union of his daughter and Ferdinand, and generally draws the proceedings to a neat and tidy close.

The physicality and skill of all four actors as they fully inhabit their many roles is quite simply a delight to watch. Roisin Brehony’s Caliban is particularly funny, his cavorting and squealing drawing great guffaws from the audience. The fact that his bald head is a bike helmet covered in flesh-coloured plastic and that he has, inexplicably, tiny plastic hands, just adds to the general hilarity.

It’s this revelling in the ridiculous that the HandleBards excel at. Their reverence for The Bard is evident in the joy they bring to the performance but they’re not afraid to augment his lines with their own contemporary schtick. (At one point Sherrard has the audience joining in with a shouty version of the Bee Gees’ “Staying Alive”.)

This is an absolute must-see for Fringe 2020. Shakespearean shenanigans at their theatrical best. You’ll leave the tent with a warm heart and a big smile.

The HandleBards are performing The Tempest at The Bally, Gluttony, until March 15.

See more Fringe and Festival stories and reviews here.

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