Horrible Histories - More Best of Barmy Britain. Birmingham Stage Company, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry.
Birmingham Stage Company have an unparalleled reputation for staging theatre for children and families, and in the course of the last 25 years have mounted productions based on the works of authors such as Roald Dahl, Michael Morpurgo and David Walliams. They have also produced a number of shows based on the popular children’s history series created by Terry Deary. It’s worth noting that these stage adaptations of Horrible Histories are different to the successful TV series; different sketches and songs, but no less irreverent and funny, and certainly no less poo jokes!
And the poo jokes were flying thick and fast at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, as we were treated to a whistle stop tour through some of our country’s more bizarre moments in history. From Romans serving up fermented fish intestines as a delicacy to General Haig being quizzed by Alan Sugar about his “task” organizing the Battle of the Somme, all human life is here. And if this last sketch sounds a little insensitive, rest assured the subject is treated with delicacy as well as humour, as the writers here lampoon the idiocy of Haig’s decision, while not losing sight of the horror of the outcome.
This was the one delicate note in an otherwise lively and fun 70 minutes in the company of Romans, Vikings, Puritans, Victorians and Elizabeth I, all portrayed with wonderful agility and astonishing memory by Benedict Martin and Pip Chamberlin. Furnished with a wondrous array of coats, hats and props, they move easily between Music Hall, Pantomime and Rap, with a wide variety of stories and characters brought to life. I really don’t want to get into spoilers, but while the children will enjoy the range of songs, audience participation, and many many poo jokes, the older people in the audience (I hesitate to use the word Grownups as most of us were shouting louder than the kids!) were well catered for in sketches that borrowed from, not only The Apprentice, but also The Only Way is Essex and The Fast Show.
The junior reviewers, both history nerds and long-standing fans of the books and TV, both laughed, sang and had a great time. Maybe some audience participation right at the top of the show would have warmed the younger children up quicker – many seemed to be waiting for permission to make noise at the start. But a sing-a-long led by a Viking soon got everyone going, and 70 minutes later we really only had one question (even though Dickens wasn’t covered in this show): “Please, sir, can we have some more?”
More Best of Barmy Britain can be seen at the Belgrade Theatre until Saturday 2nd of June.
BSCs new HH show – Barmy Britain Part 4 – will preview in Telford 18-21 July before moving to the Apollo Theatre, London for the summer.
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