As some of you may have noticed, the HandleBards have a stock photo of us in our costumes in the same position in front of each venue. As everyone will have experienced, week three was a week of scorching sunshine. In Durham we combined these two features as we left Crook Hall with a photo of us in just our underwear and socks. We managed to do this by deftly dodging the paying public wandering around the grounds, whilst at the same time grabbing an employee and getting her to take said photo. In hindsight this may have been a little more frightening to her than we anticipated, so if she reads this, thank you and sorry.
On Tuesday we travelled to Bowes Museum, a beautiful structure originally created to rival the V&A in London for a free show of Twelfth Night. As Bowes Museum had a public park we managed to camp by the venue, and for the first time ever on the tour, four grown mature and sophisticated men (us) feared for our lives as unknown dog walkers, joggers and the occasional drunk ambled past our tents in the dead of night. For one night, we felt we had camped in a budget thriller movie, as the mundane became potential fearful events whilst the night drew in.
We woke up on Wednesday, alive and with all of our limbs (possibly because Tom had slept with the tent mallet by his side in case of potential intruders) and set off to Bolton Castle. Our journey to Bolton Castle was our greatest challenge yet. Whilst only 25 miles, we had to brave the Yorkshire Dales in the heat of the day on bikes not suited for the terrain. Our bikes are the wonderful hybrid Specialised Series, which are light and fast paced – mountain bikes would have been preferable for this journey. For me, this was an incredibly uncomfortable trip, which felt very dangerous. The ground underfoot was dusty and covered in rocks and potholes, if you didn’t peddle at quite a fast speed the bike would skid and fall. Even then, if you peddled too fast and turned sharply…. the bike would skid and fall. I was just grateful I wasn’t the one pulling the 55-kilo trailer on the continuous incline that was the town of Reeth. The scenery however, was stunning.
As we were used by this point to cycling journeys of 40 miles followed by a show we were confident this one would not take long. We were wrong. After five hours we reached Bolton castle, much of our speed was hindered by the fact we had to cycle ahead of the trailer, dismount, run back, and help whoever was carrying the trailer at that point by pushing it up the hill. It was 3pm and absolutely baking when we met Katie the venue manager, who took one look at our sweaty appearances, took pity on us and lead us to the canteen for a cold drink. The area in which we would be performing in turned out to be the Castles courtyard surrounded by its semi preserved walls, battlements and a working portcullis which was lowered as we set up.
After the heavy day’s cycling we were grateful we would not have to strain our voices to be heard in the space, and the atmospheric surroundings added wonderfully to the show. At the end of each show Paul Moss explained to the audience that we had gallantly managed to cycle here via Reeth, and an older man in the crowd laughed and later told us that the journey was nothing and he did similar ever day. I must admit that, on hearing these words, I was impressed the cast remained smiling and none broke down in tears.
Tom, the son of the Lord of Bolton Castle, told us that instead of camping in the castle’s grounds, we were welcome to stay in the castle. On our own. The whole of Bolton Castle, with lowered portcullis and wood fire, would for one night be the HandleBards Castle. We wished we had our own flag to fly from the battlements.
The next day we cycled 50miles, still through the Dales, on our way to Houghton Tower. We fuelled ourselves by stopping at a tearoom in Aysgarth Falls, where we ate all the food, which helped us do the trip in seven hours. A special shout out must be made to Tom Dixon who managed to cycle up a killer hill, which ran for half a mile at a 16% incline pulling the trailer. He did all this without stopping and managed to keep his top on.
We arrived at Houghton Tower in Preston to perform both Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night. Here we met the Brothers of Swing who would join us in performing Twelfth Night. These cheeky chappies were brilliant at charming an audience, and transformed the scenes we incorporated them into, adding to the comedy of the whole situation. The famous Orsino speech “If music be the food of love” was accompanied by an a cappela version of ‘Come fly with me’ by Frank Sinatra. They nonchalantly strutted through the audience, until the words ‘Enough no more, tis not as sweet now as it was before’ halted them in their tracks and with muttered words of outrage they reluctantly sat with the chuckling audience. Houghton Tower was where King James I is said to have knighted a particularly tasty loin of beef during a meal in 1617. This is now why we call it ‘Sirloin Steak.’
The next day, the HandleBards assembled and began their journey to the Monastery in Manchester for a performance of Romeo and Juliet in one of our first indoor venues since Glasgow. The 40-mile journey went smoothly and we met the 25-piece Eagley Brass Band who would be performing with us. In their very professional matching uniforms, the band played with expert skill, the sound reverberating off the walls of the monastery beautifully. Whilst the actors had to lower their volume whilst performing due to the echoey acoustics, the band seemed to overpower even physics, as every note played could be heard perfectly.
This was an incredible week for the HandleBards: we survived the Dales, owned a castle for a night, entered the room where James I knighted some beef, and were accompanied by a 25-piece brass band in the Monastery. Surreal and wonderful and full of hard work, we look forward to week four.