Review: Horrible Histories. (touring) Nottingham Theatre Royal.

If you spot any heads rolling down the hill from the Theatre Royal this week, do try not to worry, it’s just the latest Queen getting her head chopped off in the Terrible Tudors episode of Horrible Histories. Alternate performances will focus on the Awful Egyptians and involve quite a lot of poo apparently, so plenty for everyone to enjoy!

The Horrible Histories stories – first written as books by Terry Deary and subsequently made into an award-winning television series – bring history alive in the most funny, frightening and enlightening way. Having first hand experience of seeing my own children learn all the Kings and Queens of England through the TV series, it’s hard not to be impressed by something which actually teaches dry facts in an entertaining manner. The joy of producing a live show is that the audience can really get involved, making the memories even more potent.

The hardworking team of three from the Birmingham Stage Company – Simon Nock, Izaak Cainer and Lisa Allen – give us a comprehensive history of the Tudors from beginning to end. Their energy is evident, bounding onto a cart, singing and dancing around the stage, and throwing themselves in and out of various impressive costumes in rapid succession. The mayhem and repartee is fast-paced and fun but interspersed with actual historic facts, and I am surprised to realise I have learned a lot!! With a cheeky nod to Richard III and his demise in a ‘local car park’, Henry Tudor – Henry VIII to you – comes on the scene full of bravado but it is the infamous (infamy, infamy, I’m sure he’s got it in-for-me!) Henry VIII that embodies the typical Tudor . We learn much about his enormous appetite, his six wives and their progeny, and a panto style audience participation section means every child now knows how they all died and in what order. Lord help the parents who will undoubtedly hear it again and again in the coming days! The division of the Christian church into Catholics and Protestants is easily explained with a football theme, natch, and it all makes sense, finally.

A section highlighting the Tudor ‘cruelty to criminals’ involves a lot of blood and gore, dismembered bodies, and cures that were actually poisons – manky medicines – accompanied by Monty Python-esque characters with squeaky voices, exaggerated accents and a nice line in fake death. Following the interval, the audience don 3D glasses and this further level of crazy is added to the mix. A quick tour through the successors to Henry VIII finally leads us to Queen Elizabeth I and her encounters with the Spanish Armada, Sir Francis Drake – and a language lesson from Shakespeare. By this time, the (mainly young) audience is wildly enthusiastic, noisily booing and cheering as required, and having a fine old time.

The script is clever and fast-moving, the energy levels high, and there is plenty to enjoy for adults and children alike. I mean, who doesn’t want to hear Henry VIII rapping at his own wedding party and rhyming Greensleeves with Anne of Cleves? You don’t? Off with his head!

Horrible Histories run at Nottingham Theatre Royal until Sat 2nd March


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