Horrible Histories hosts a plethora of children’s matinees in the West End this summer, offering a cool escape from the heat and tourist sites. This show has developed from Terry Dreary’s original books, into a TV show and stage shows. Most recently it ventured into a truly horrible full-length movie. This version is called Barmy Britain – Part Four but I don’t think it matters if you have missed parts 1 to 3.
What must have started as a wonderful way of getting children interested in history, has evolved into a parody of itself, with the emphasis more on the jokes and less on history. It doesn’t matter, as this is slick, fun and silly despite an over reliance on fart and poo jokes. Indeed the first comes just a few minutes into the show as St Alban is converted to Christianity through a farting ceremony.
This version Is stripped back, with three chests and two coat stands set with all the costumes for the two actors. The production values of the two-act version with a larger cast, projection and a set are abandoned in this shorter one-act version. It has a very British institution feeling, like a cross between Pantomime, Music Hall and Carry On films (on several occasions you could hear Kenneth Williams in the delivery) .
Benedict Martin as Rex and Pip Chamberlain as Roger, lead us a merry dance through some of the more unsavoury aspects of British Life since the Romans. They throw themselves whole heartedly into the production, switching swiftly between Kings and Queens, to such unpleasant characters as the night soilers .
The seventy minute show whisks us from the Romans, the Vikings, Richard III, the Tudors, James VI, Samuel Pepys, to Georgian and Victorian England . We meet an army revolting over not enough beer, a Tudor dentist , the last witch to be burned and the first person killed by the railways. The children in the audience loved it. Singing along with the song sheet about massive poos, cheering two kids on stage to find a witch and cheering along to the “Barmy Britain breaks the rules” song. There are almost more modern references than historical ones with Brexit, Love island, Apps, Kindles, Flossing, drones, global warming and Bob The Builder all getting a mention.
This is a completely barmy show and offers a sideways look at British History but the energetic and likeable double act make it work and it is a fun, live and enjoyable afternoon treat and a much better choice than seeing the film of the same name at the cinema.
Reviewed by Nick Wayne
Photo: Mark Douet
FOLLOW WEST END WILMA