Review: The Handlebards’ Romeo & Juliet (Touring)

Tuesday May 25th 2021 at York Theatre Royal


This ‘very loose’ re-telling of Romeo and Juliet is a treat – mostly because the cast offer that special kind of ‘we are having the time of our lives up here’ magic, but also because it’s a glowing reminder of just how malleable Shakespeare texts can be. There’s far more in the unwritten here than the written, and The Handlebards make fantastic use of Will Shakespeare’s aversion to stage direction overkill. In the blank spaces, this company offer up a bounty of farcical comedy, with the best bits always resting with the various liberties taken. This is Romeo and Juliet as a rib-tickling jaunt!

Many forget how young the famous Juliet is in this play. She’s a teenager. And that’s how The Handlebards heartily play the whole piece: a lively, funny tale about two spirited teens who fall head over heels despite their families loathing one another (with some fighting and death involved because… well, it’s Shakespeare). Impressively, The Handlebards offer us this re-telling via an indefatigable trio. Yes, a trio. Between them, they play all minor roles, but as Romeo we have Paul Moss and as Juliet, Lucy Green – with Tom Dixon completing the set as a raft of comic cameos, including Juliet’s Nurse and Friar Lawrence. They make for a very entertaining merry band.

In fact, much of the comedy here is found in the dramatics of Moss and Green as Romeo and Juliet go through their teen cycle of infatuation and angst, making the whole thing ripe for some great physical comedy and hyper-charged Kevin-esque moments. Green in particular is hilarious when at her most riled. What’s not to laugh about when the love-torn are melodramatically flailing about in their emotions? Timeless comedy fodder!

And for those of us who missed the merriment of panto season, you’ll be glad to hear that there are definitely elements of panto in May here, because this show is silly and funny in the best possible way – particularly when it comes to the playful approach to props and costume. It’s also very well crafted, and beneath all the mischief and charismatic big acting, the sheer speed, comic flair and audaciousness win over an audience in no time.

So expect all the ingredients you’ve come to know and love in a family-friendly fun-fest; singing, dancing, running gags and general lovely tomfoolery. And credit where it’s due too – the fact that this fab trio, while allllll of that tomfoolery is going on, manage to deliver a pretty cohesive telling of Shakespeare’s tale (while letting a little of his lyrical beauty shine through too), makes this production and this company well worth watching. Go see this jolly rib-tickler if you can!

Handlebard’s Romeo and Juliet plays York Theatre Royal for one more night: May 26th 2021 – you can get your tickets here.

Images: Rah Petherbridge

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