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Theatre Review Learning while you larf

PETER MASON has a whale of a time watching this inventive and irreverent take on our history

Horrible Histories, Barmy Britain, Part 4
Apollo Theatre
London W1

Even at this early stage in the summer holidays there'll be many parents gratefully grabbing the boredom-busting lifeline of another Horrible Histories stage show for their kids.

Although tickets are hardly dirt cheap for this Apollo Theatre morning show (£20-£25 for most seats), they're not prohibitively expensive, either — especially for a West End venue — and for 70 minutes of delightfully distracting pleasure they certainly provide good value for money.

As always with the consistently excellent Horrible Histories brand there's a liberal helping of child-friendly bottom and fart jokes in this newly devised romp through the murkier regions of British life and times, from the death of the first Christian martyr, St Alban, through to a musical examination of the travails of Victorian night soil workers.

For the parents — who, let's face it, are not averse to the odd poo-related gag either — there are additional highfalutin’ cracks that pass the kids by, as well as some humorous sideswipes at the state of our current Barmy Britain. For all and sundry there are fascinating details of the darker side of life across 1,000 years of Britain's torment, including a selection of gory tales taking in severed heads, torture techniques and anaesthetic-free tooth extractions.

Rex and Roger, the two-man cast of Neal Foster and Anthony Spargo (courtesy of the Birmingham Stage Company), manfully tackle the welter of character changes with a box of dressing up clothes and a large degree of aplomb, aided by Foster's crackling script.

There's a panto feel to proceedings, and even a few audience choruses of “Oh no he didn't.” But of course there's also an educational angle to the project, with enlightenment offered on all sorts of historical questions that we've privately never been able to get to grips with, such as the vexed issue of the difference between Mary Tudor and Mary Queen of Scots, tackled here in full.

Take the children before the holidays come to an end, or maybe just go by yourself. It's a blood-stained, bubo-pocked hogshead of laughs — and you might just learn something.

Ends September 1 2018. Box office


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