Review: Horrible Histories. Barmy Britain. Nottingham Theatre Royal.

Horrible Histories – Barmy Britain written by Terry Deary and Neal Foster

Directed by Neal Foster

A Birmingham Stage Company Production

Theatre Royal Nottingham – Touring

Horrible Histories is a cultural phenomenon in the world of children’s television and books. There are plenty of adult fans too, including this reviewer, whose three children have grown up loving its hilarious brand of ‘histrionic history’.

Horrible Histories – Barmy Britain is currently touring the country and can be seen at the Theatre Royal Nottingham from Thursday 5th August – Saturday 7th August. Already a huge hit in the West End, this fun-filled (and indeed fact-filled) production runs at 65 minutes; ample time to gallop through a potted history of Britain replete with gory bits aplenty.

I am very pleased to announce that Barmy Britain has lost none of the subversive glory of the original Horrible Histories’ format. All the familiar elements are there: pop culture pastiche, comic violence, and musical mash-ups galore.

We romp along in a magnificently rambunctious fashion from Boudicca to Queen Victoria, via King John, Henry VIII, and Dick Turpin. Each character is imbued with their own idiosyncrasies making them easily distinguishable. All credit to the costume department for making the splendiferous array of outfits (which clearly need to be adaptable for all the quick changes).

Principal actors, Jack Ballard and Martin Atkinson work together in perfect unison, never missing a word or a beat. The design, sound and music are seamlessly fused to showcase their acting, singing and dancing skills. Every move is entirely synchronised and there is a surprising amount of intricate choreography performed with aplomb.

The dynamic duo works incredibly hard on stage, yet they make it appear effortless. The sheer expressiveness of their faces, and exaggerated gesturing, bring squeals of delight from the younger members of the crowd. It’s no wonder that audience participation, whether singing or clapping, is conducted enthusiastically by children, parents and grandparents alike. This is a production that is appreciated on different levels by all ages. Bogies, bottoms, and buboes at one end of the spectrum, socio-political comment at the other.

Gabriel (14) is genuinely surprised and pleased with ‘the amount of Gen Z humour’ in the show, whilst noting the very funny innuendo which he hopes ‘goes over the younger kids’ heads.’ Don’t worry, it will!

Orla (6) and Luna (5) both declare at the end of the performance, ‘It is really good; we think they are amazing. We are sad it has to end and we want to go again. We love Horrible Histories.’ What better endorsement can there be for the return of live theatre, post-lockdown?

The writers, Deary and Foster are clearly big fans of alliteration and rhyming couplets, so in homage to them and this splendidly silly show, let’s finish with one of our own:

‘A bumper bonanza for all to see,

History as entertainment, performed brilliantly.’

Running time – 65 minutes (no interval)


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