“If you want Britain to stay pure you’re two thousand years too late!” Neal Foster’s closing utterances may at first appear somewhat inapt for a predominantly juvenile audience. However, the Horrible Histories franchise rarely misses a beat. Having firmly established itself as a household name for all things of a bygone era, with titles like Villainous Victorians and Incredible Incas, Terry Deary’s stage adaptation has continued to maintain relevance. At its core, Deary’s work is still echoing the same message it did all those years ago with its gory details and vivacious illustrations.
We are taken on a whirlwind expedition spanning a thousand years, encountering the likes of Emperor Claudius, King Arthur and Alfred the Great. Our companion and the show’s lead protagonist during these incredible invasions is the exceptional Mavis (Hannah Boyce). Wave after wave of invaders turn up at the shores of our humble island, seeking to wreak havoc and plunder our natural resources. Throughout the piece we are constantly reminded that the ubiquitous notion the British have of its Empire is merely a speck on the otherwise conquered tapestry that is our nation’s history.
“Boyce sustained the attentiveness of both parents and children throughout”
Boyce radiated warmth; her vibrant energy appeared sincere and she sustained the attentiveness of both parents and children throughout. The effortless blend of lessons and lyrics was greatly aided by Nick Sagar’s score, the timing of which never faltered. The parents seated around me were at ease for the entirety of the show, which is testament to how well Foster directed his cast. He seized the responsibility that every parent gives any children’s entertainer and thanked them with a series of well-crafted pop culture quips. From a Roman rendition of Grand Designs to witnessing Boudicca on The Great British Bash Up, it was evident that Mum and Dad were just as important as the the kids. The biggest laughs came from Ashley Bowden’s and Laura Dalgleish’s timeless repartee; in any era the pair were uproariously funny.
Through the use of 3D Bogglevision, Foster’s production seamlessly manages the balance between learning and amusement. It is evident that designer Jacqueline Trousdale fully understood the iPad generation that packed the auditorium. An electronic screen acted as the backdrop through our tour of conquered Britain, the aforementioned Bogglevision had the children completely transfixed.
“Trousdale’s visual composition triumphed but I had to remind myself that I was at the theatre”
During the second half of the show audience members were instructed to put on their 3D glasses in order to stand a fighting chance against the vicious Vikings. Irrefutably, Trousdale’s visual composition triumphed again but at some point during the lurching snakes and firing arrows, I had to remind myself that I was at the theatre. Children of today require a far greater visual stimulus than Deary and his infamous illustrator Martin Brown composed in the original books. Although it is magnificently executed, Foster’s production is a disheartening reminder of the screen swiping face of modern children’s entertainment.
Deary is outspoken on the futility of the education system and its failure to prepare children for life. The “entertain first and inform later” approach has incited historical curiosity in young minds for over two decades, an aspiration former education secretary Michael Gove could only dream of! Now in its twenty-fifth year, and a series of world tours scheduled, there is no stopping the Horrible Histories hurricane. If history is told by the victors, it is very comforting to know Terry Deary is still winning.
Horrible Histories is showing at Theatre Royal until Sunday 8th November. For more information, click here.