I’m still feeling slightly frosty as I sit down in Alexandra Palace’s recently reopened gloriously gilded theatre space, ready to enjoy a spot of Horrible Christmas magic. It’s a massive space and the perfect environment for a Christmas show, even a horrible one. Remnants of the gold and red covered walls and ceiling are mirrored on stage. Jaqueline Trousdale’s set design is simple yet beautiful; a large window with the words “Merry Christmas” hangs across it and a Christmas tree bedecked with red bows, tinsel, fairy lights and gold and red baubles, create a cosy living room on Christmas Eve.
The living room is home to Watson Williams (Tom Cawte) whose parents catch him being a little too impatient by making sure his parents bought him the right toy. After witnessing the evil Sydney Claus (Chris Gunter) steal all his presents, Watson joins forces with Shirley Holmes (Erika Poole). Together they chase Sydney through time and space to quash his plan of ruining Christmas from the day it started.
Along the way we meet Charles Dickens as he embarks on writing his hit novel A Christmas Carol, visit Oliver Cromwell and his family of Puritans, engage with two members of the royal family, Charles II and Henry VIII, meet the real St Nick before finally landing in Bethlehem for the first ever Christmas.
I was an avid reader of the Horrible Histories book series; back home there must be two shelves filled with Groovy Greeks and Cut-Throat Celts. Against this backdrop, Horrible Christmas seems tame. There are many, many fart jokes and the mere mention of poop and the bottom has the, largely younger, audience rolling in their seats. Well known literary characters get renamed into Oliver Twerk, Hairy Pooper and David Copperbottom. It all gets very silly and repetitive over the 90 minutes you are sitting there.
However, a hugely energetic cast manages to get even the most reluctant audience members to join in and eventually we are all singing the songs as loud as we can and booing at Sydney. The musical numbers, written by Matthew Scott and choreographed by Paul Chantry and Rae Piper, are the backbone of Horrible Christmas. A standout Restoration rap performed by Neal Foster as Charles II is particularly enjoyable and Ashley Bowden not only plays Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, but also becomes him with every fibre of his being.
A heart-warming message at the end gives the performance a beautiful round up and with historical jokes and little-known facts flying about, you might even learn something along the way. Altogether, Horrible Christmas is a festive adventure that proves a history lesson can be turned into fun for all the family.
Horrible Histories – Horrible Christmas is playing at Alexandra Palace until 30 December. For more information and tickets, click here.