Review – Horrible Histories: Barmy Britain Part Four at the Apollo Theatre
With Boris Johnson moved into Number 10 and the dreaded ‘B word’ uttered more than ever, it may seem as if history is being rewritten before our eyes every day. But with centuries of history shaping our country’s past, Horrible Histories returns to the West End to remind us of exciting, and somewhat less gloomy times.
Based on Terry Deary’s series of children’s books and the subsequent BAFTA award-winning television series, Horrible Histories: Barmy Britain takes its audience on a historical rollercoaster through the pivotal moments in Britain’s history. From the terrible Tudors to the present day (BoJo gets three mentions in the show!), no stone is left unturned in this 70-minute historical extravaganza.
Before the show had even started, one budding historian next to me couldn’t contain his excitement, having seen the show before, and looking forward to learning about that his favourite historical figures, the Vikings. Throughout the show, he’d emulate the gestures he’d just seen on stage as if he were a part of the West End’s interactive history lesson. It became clear that being presented with facts is one thing, but it’s the upbeat storytelling and songs that stick in a young person’s mind.
Leading its legion of audiences through 1,000 years of Britain history, Benedict Martin and Pip Chamberlain bring monarchs including Elizabeth I and James I to life with infectious charm. Telling some of the gruesome stories usually left out of the textbooks, Martin and Chamberlain keep calm and carry on throughout the frenzied performance, which includes a hysterical audience singsong about poo! But there was no time for the actors to corpse, as the pair’s constant bumbling around the stage and interaction with the crowds made sure that even the youngest audience members followed every part of the action.
Neal Foster’s inventive use of the minimalist set and lighting on the Apollo Theatre stage was aided by Jacqueline Trousdale’s historical costumes that looked the part. But as the cast slipped into different jackets and wigs on stage, it often stilted the action between historical eras.
While Horrible Histories might tell silly stories in a slapstick fashion and a few crass jokes here and there, the show’s quintessential British humour left me smiling from ear to ear, proving the best children’s theatre is theatre that’s for adults too.
Horrible Histories: Barmy Britain Part Four tickets are available now.
Photo credit: Mark Douet