'Horrible Histories: Terrible Tudors' review — a royal retelling of some gruesome tales

Read our four-star review of Horrible Histories: Terrible Tudors, now in performances at the Garrick Theatre through 2 September.

Bea Maynard
Bea Maynard

The Tudor era certainly was terrible. Filled with quick one-liners, catchy historical songs, and plenty of bottom jokes, Horrible Histories: Terrible Tudors is an educational yet amusing piece of family fun theatre.

Very unlike the beloved CBBC television series, this show only has a cast of two. A fantastic dynamic duo, Emma Swan as Drabb and Neal Foster as Dr. Dee, speed through the Tudor’s grisly history, starting from the murder of Richard III and ending at the death of Queen Elizabeth I. The pair are on stage the entire time, using their expert delivery and comedic timing to engage the audience. When most of the crowd are under the age of 12, it is a difficult feat to entertain them all for 70 minutes, but the pair does so with such ease.

Both Swan and Drabb portray their roles with heaps of energy that makes learning about history extremely fun. Both swapping from character to character by quick costume changes on stage, they provide a quick, seamless run-through of the peculiar happenings of the Royal Family from 1485 to 1603.

The duo recounts some horrible events, including Anne Boleyn’s lips moving after her head is chopped off, but the panto-esque humour allows for a lighthearted retelling of these rather gruesome stories. This levity, paired with some incredibly memorable tunes, meant everyone roared with laughter and sang along throughout the performance.

One catchy lyric states: “Henry VIII was a big fat man, loves to stuff his face from the frying pan.” These tunes, including rap interludes, powerful ballads, and catchy show tune-style songs, are playfully scattered throughout the show in just the right doses. They give Horrible Histories zest without overtaking the performance.

Horrible Histories is the perfect mix of learning whilst having fun. With witty contemporary nods – think Church of England vs. Protestant church portrayed like a Liverpool vs. Man City football match – it isn't just the youngsters who soak up new facts; everyone is in on the enlightening fun. Audience participation in historic rhymes, like "Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived,” provides a jaunty lesson for everyone.

Even I, an adult above the target demographic for the show, had an incredibly enjoyable time. No matter what age you are, you’ll learn and laugh in unison with everyone else. Horrible Histories is the perfect school holiday trip to the theatre: a great blend of absurd jokes and very horrific history.

Horrible Histories: Terrible Tudors is at the Garrick Theatre through 2 September.*

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Photo credit: Horrible Histories: Terrible Tudors. (Photo courtesy of production)

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