The stage version of CBBC’s Horrible Histories – now in its third live shows season – has started its run at the Garrick Theatre with the aim of telling the stories of Magna Carta, the Great Fire, the Restoration, Prehistoric England, the Vikings and even a touch of Tudor fashion! Having enjoyed the TV series, this was my first time in one of the live shows, and it certainly hit all the right notes.
The cast of two – Anthony Spargo and Neal Foster – did a brilliant job at impersonating a huge array of historical characters, from Kings John to Charles II, making them come alive in the most hilarious ways. Word games, silly jokes and outrageous costumes all aided them to make the audience laugh, together with clever and hilarious songs (particularly Charles II’s, which was by far the best!). Probably the aspect I enjoyed the most was the creator’s idea of not making a kids’ show as they usually are, but as the children would want it: funny, quick, gory and even disgusting at times. All poo references were met with delight from a hypnotised audience.
As a historian, I was concerned about the historical accuracy of the show’s sketches, but I could not be more wrong: serious thought has gone into making the script understandable and enjoyable, but also accurate and full of information. There was a perfect balance between historical data and parody, and I am sure children left the theatre knowing a bit more about Magna Carta and the Puritans, even if what they can remember is only the very basics. As many YouTube videos show, Horrible Histories is a show particularly famous for its songs. They do not disappoint in the live show, making Charles II’s restoration a hip-hop show off, and inviting the audience to sing to a tune explaining how to distinguish between Viking, Saxon and Roman cities in the UK.
With a simple yet effective set, quick costume changes and loads of energy, the very talented cast of Horrible Histories delighted the audience from beginning to end (even though there were many very young children who I am not sure understood what was being said), making children and parents alike have a wonderful time. From why there were bears in England to why purple was not generally allowed to be worn by regular people in Tudor times, these unexpected, curious, even crazy aspects of History are the best way to engage young people in this wonderful discipline. It is also a great, educational way to spend a day on summer break.
After all, who does not like a bit of blood, murder and craziness (and poo)?
Horrible Histories is playing at the Garrick Theatre until 5 September. For more information and tickets, see the Garrick Theatre website. Image credit: Horrible Histories production images.