From the moment I entered the Garrick theatre the excited squeals of children were audible. They had seemingly come expecting the charming wit of Terry Deary and the joyous mirth of the television counterpart of Horrible Histories. What we were greeted with, however, was Horrible Histories Barmy Britain; a very competently performed, well-executed but badly written show. The demographic for this production was obviously children aged around ten, but there were moments of charming pantomime-like sketches offset with cheap cultural references made to fit in with the historical point been made, so ‘Who Wants to a Millionaire’ became ‘Who Wants To Blow Up Parliament’ and we are given two very basic facts about Guy Fawkes. Then in another scene the story of a baby ‘farmer’ was told, with the audio of a screaming, dying child played over the top, this was both chilling and upsetting given the performance around it was quite comic. The overall tone of the piece kept shifting and very unnecessarily so, given the comic moments received the best reaction from the excitable audience.
I am aware that Horrible Histories is meant to be gory at times, but this wasn’t playful gore this was one of two extremes, either being too macabre or too light hearted. In reality the writing should have been in between the two, much like the books are, and if it had been this would have been a fantastic show. The sound designed by Nick Sagar was (apart from the baby scream) flawless, conjuring up objects and scenes with masterful timing. The lighting by Jason Taylor was a marvel, moving us quickly yet effectively through different emotions and time periods and this was further improved by Jaqueline Trousdale simplistic yet fabulous costumes and set. Finally the duo of Lauryn Redding and Benedict Martin were great at creating new characters at a moment’s notice. The issue was, as previously stated, some of the material was lacking. Many of the songs by Matthew Scott were clever and witty, and often these were the moments laced with the most historical interest, but the ones that involved audience participation served nothing more than to show how disinterested some of the children had become, with few people joining in. Bizarrely, both parents and children all around me began talking amongst themselves during these frankly, awkward moments.
What should have been a brilliant production didn’t live up to expectations, the charm and tongue-in-cheek humour of Deary was often missing or failed to translate onto the stage. The script should have been between the two previously mentioned extremes and actually included more historical facts, one of the main draws of Horrible Histories is it teaches as it entertains but in this production there was hardly anything to take away from it. Worst of all, it only lasted an hour, and the dissatisfaction of the audience was made very obvious with children loudly complaining to their parents “that was so short!” and they were absolutely right.
Horrible Histories is booking at The Garrick Theatre until 1 September. For more information and tickets, see the Garrick Theatre website.