Horrible Histories: Barmy Britain: Part One

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Horrible Histories: Barmy Britain: Part One

Current cast is Neal Foster and Alison Fitzjohn

Gore galore is central to the appeal of Terry Deary's massively popular tongue-in-cheek kids' series, which leaves no cobblestone unturned in its efforts to disinter disgusting historical factoids for a school-age audience.

Amputation, stinky fish guts and hanging feature heavily in this stage-spinoff of Deary's books and the kiddy-Bafta-winning TV series. It's putrid panto time as two talented presenters take us from the Roman invasion to drone warfare with sing-alongs along the way.

The target audience laps it up. But I'd have preferred more facts and less flippancy: British history is a spotted, violent tale, but I'm not sure Henry VIII, despite his serial faults as husband, is really Hitler's moral equivalent. By the time we get to the Victorians, surely there's something slightly more edifying than a notorious baby-murdering old lady to dredge up for seven-year-old consumption?

Birmingham Stage Company's hour-long show funnels each horrid epoch through spoof TV formats borrowed from the kind of crap that some seven-year-olds' parents mystifyingly choose to spend their evenings with instead of Eric Hobsbawm or Michel Foucault. It's heartily enjoyable and loudly appreciated.

Actors Lauryn Redding and Benedict Martin rise above the thinner, less tuneful moments and positively revel in fun set pieces like the revolting Roman cookery show. By the end, Britain seems not so much 'barmy' as barbarous, bloodthirsty and stark raving bonkers.


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