Most of us are likely well aware of Terry Deary’s imaginative Horrible Histories children’s books, and the popular tv series of the same name. This theatrical adaptation, written by Neal Foster and produced by Birmingham Stage Company, continues a tradition of gruesome tales and slapstick gags to deliver an entertaining family event.
Performed by comedy duo Neal Foster and Anthony Spargo, the audience are taken on a journey through time: from the Tudors, to the Elizabethans to the Romans and more! The actors multi-role their way throughout the show, accompanied by catchy tunes and a simple yet magical stage design, courtesy of Jacqueline Trousdale. Thanks to Foster and Spargo’s fantastic physical and vocal performances, children all of ages can follow along easily.
The production makes good use of the tried and proven formula which Horrible Histories thrives on – debunking common historical myths through farce, slapstick and raucous situations. We see ancient punishments for crimes such as chopping off heads, breaking fingers and thumbscrews. But it’s handled with humour and over-the-top gags which provide satisfying comic relief for the audience.
There is a good balance between silliness and historical fact – we learn about the great witch hunts in the Jacobean area, but there are also fun moments in which the audience are encouraged to join in with a sort of ‘rap battle’, in which the strongest insult is: ‘you’re a great big massive poo.’ That being said, the show might try and aim to be more inclusive of its older members. There is an attempt to appeal to adults, with the overuse of Brexit jokes, but the show would benefit from being more creative in its humour. And in fact, even for its younger audience; there is an abundance of toilet humour but other types of humour could benefit the audience further.
Music by Matthew Scott plays an integral part in the lively atmosphere, and the songs get better and better as the show continues. A personal favourite is the ‘Mary’ song, in which both men dress up in fantastic gowns (designed by Jacqueline Trousdale), one as Mary Tudor and the other as Mary Queen of Scots, highlighting their similarities and differences through musical banter.
Barmy Britain is a wonderful way to get children laughing, chanting and clapping along, whilst also learning new things about Britain’s history! Highly recommend for all families (and you might even be invited up on stage too!)