REVIEWS

Horrible Histories: Barmy Britain – Part Two!
Terry Deary and Neal Foster
Garrick Theatre, Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0HH

Reviewed by Peter Lawler


Horrible Histories
Lauryn Redding, Anthony Spargo play all the characters in the "eww!-fest" that is Horrible Histories: Barmy Britain, Part Two. Photo Jane Hobson.
I had a Sociology lecturer who once said that kids' shows aren't really kids' shows. They're adult shows that we let kids watch. I think that idea applies pretty well to Horrible Histories: Barmy Britain – Part Two!, currently on at The Garrick Theatre in The West End. Violent, flatulent and silly, this show also has enough subtle humor and references on a number of levels to keep accompanying adults heartily guffawing as well.

Terry Deary's first Horrible Histories book was published in 1993 and his ever expanding empire of "eww!" has continued to grow into award-winning television programmes, Nintendo Wii games, board games, all manner of merchandise and a strong online presence as well as a first successful Barmy Britain stage show, also at the Garrick last year with at least half of the same double act, Lauryn Redding as Esmerelda. This show incorporates interactivity, contemporary references and styles and audience participation to guide us in a full throttle, side-splitting ride through two thousand years of Britain.

There are parts of American history that are violent, but for some reason, perhaps our relative youth as a nation, we don't seem to revel in the violent and morbid parts the way our Transatlantic cousins do. This crash course in history through pop culture featured the story of William Wallace and Edward Longshanks in the style of British dating show, Take Me Out complete with catchphrase, "no likey, no lighty!" Utilizing Dick Turpin's county of origin, his story is told as an episode of The Only Way Is Essex (think Jersey Shore in cockney). Particularly sensational though was the barnstorming, roof-raising Prince Albert and Queen Victoria rap taken from the idea of her majesty demanding her proper "re-spect!"

Credit must be given to Deary and his co-writer, Neal Foster, for these clever touches, such as unearthing the, well, frankly barmy (translation = nuts; crazy) facts of British history, such as the way that Turpin was only caught after shooting a chicken in York, or that Queen Elizabeth at least temporarily put an end to the practice of a monarch having a personal servant to 'assist' them in the toilet.

Horrible Histories
Violent, flatulent and silly... adults will love it! Horrible Histories: Barmy Britain, Part Two. Photo Jane Hobson.
It is these unique bits of history that will both lodge themselves in the memory of the younger audience members and encourage them to go the library or to Google the Tudors or highwaymen later.

Do these shows, or the whole Horrible Histories brand teach? Is this imparting knowledge? I didn't quiz my six year old and his friend afterwards, but I wouldn't say so. They did say that though they found some parts "scary" (there were lots of lights and dry ice), they also "really loved it!" What that does emphasise is a sense of joy and if children associate that with history and it makes them want to go back to it for a little taste of fun, it is no bad thing.

click for tickets: www.barmybritain.com

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