Ian Waller and his family enjoy a night of black death, Roman invasions and body-snatching with this Horrible History celebration of The Best Bits of Barmy Britain at the Theatre Royal Bath
Horrible Histories has got to be some of the best telly around today, no matter how old you are. It’s clever blend of comedy, song and slapstick that bring history to life in a way that no school textbook has ever achieved, and the great news is that the stage version, which runs at the Theatre Royal Bath from 8-12 November, is just as good.
The Best of Barmy Britain takes its audience on a genuinely entertaining romp from Roman invasions through to the Richard I crusade, the black death, the excesses of Henry VIII and right up to Victoria and Albert, with a verve, humour and energy that is impossible not to like. And judging by that audience on opening night at the Theatre Royal Bath, with a real range of ages on show, it was clear that the oldies amongst us were determined to not let the young ‘uns have all the fun…
Of course, being a Horrible Histories’ account of events, these tales aren’t left to the facts that we all know and the boring retellings we’ve all heard many times. Instead, Boudica tells about her battles with the Romans by encouraging the audience to sing along with ‘She will, she will smash you’ to the tune of Queen’s We Will Rock You. Then a brave audience member is invited on stage to experience the many mad cures for the black death, including being whipped, fed year-old syrup and having a chicken’s bum pressed against his sores, before the fart gags (always guaranteed to raise a laugh) come along and Henry VIII takes to the stage for a tale of wooing, beheading and, yes, farting.
Along the way we’re also treated to a rapping Anne Boleyn, Guy Fawkes on a pastiche of Who Wants to Be A Millionaire called Who Wants to Blow Up Parliament, Dick Turpin does TOWIE and Burke and Hare singing about their grizzly escapades to the tune of the Postman Pat theme.
Throughout, each and every part is played by just two actors, Neal Foster and Alison Fitzjohn. Both are excellent, bringing a silliness and energy to the many parts, alongside no small measure of talent. While this was clearly the latest in a long line of performances for the duo, a freshness remains alongside a wonderful rapport that results in performances of real humour and an appreciation of what the audience will like.
The whole production is very pantomime, with a bit of education thrown in along the way (no, Henry VIII apparently didn’t write Greensleeves) and even a audience singing competition. The only slight downpoint was the overuse of the a 3D screen for much of the second half of the production. For me, while fun for a short period, this became a little too over-used and unnecessary – better to let the superb script and acting talent on display to shine through.
As a family we love Horrible Histories and this excellent production only added to the appeal. Quite simply this is a wonderful piece of theatre that demonstrates just how much fun a history of barmy Britain can really be.