Be it in print, TV, or live on stage, children’s appetite for Terry Deary’s Horribe Histories series shows no signs of slowing down.
So it was no surprise to see this latest incarnation of the series by Birmingham Stage Company, packed to the gunnels for this hour-long romp through Barmy Britain.
And a real treat for all the family it is too, full of dodgy historical characters, TV references, pantomime farce and sing-a-longs, as well as plenty of blood , guts, vomits, beheadings and squelchy noises.
Using only the minimum of props, and packed throughout with songs as infectious as the operating conditions Florence Nightingale sets out to clean up in the Crimea War, the fast-paced romp from the Romans to World War I, is gloriously recreated here by the wonderfully engaging, comic talents of Alison Fitzjohn and Neal Foster.
For this trip North, the show, which has earned rave reviews since opening in London in February, has even employed a Tartan make-over into proceedings to keep the locals happy.
To that end, in amongst learning about invading Norsemen, and a stomach-churning look at Roman cooking, we find Edward 1’s choice of date on Take Me Out whittled down to William Wallace: “I’d love to take him out!,” and Robert the Bruce, (whose favourite food, we’re reliably informed, just so happens to be salmon).
There is also house room for a local history lesson about Burke and Hare, who are revealed here not only to have been cold blooded murderers, but also able to carry a tune into the bargain with a cheery up tempo number about their deadly deeds. The story of Edinburgh’s infamous baby farmer, Jessie King also gets a look in.
In light of the impending referendum on independence, perhaps Birmingham Stage Company should consider keeping the Scots section in for the foreseeable future while they still can, and Scotland is still part of the UK.
Elsewhere the complicated love life of Henry VIII, (“I’m Henry VIII, I am, I am), is put under the microscope, and Field Marshall Haig is fired from The Apprentice by Lord Sugar for failing miserably as team leader on the project to defeat the Germans in the Great War.
Here, a chilling historical fact is introduced into proceedings that stops the audience, young and old in its tracks, with Haig’s strategy resulting in only one centimetre of ground gained for every two men killed. Although the company miss a trick here in failing to notice that Haig was born in Edinburgh
Informative, fun, food for thought, if only history lessons had been as enjoyable as this back in my day.
Horrible Histories- Barmy Britain, Pleasance, until Aug 26. Tel: 0131 556 6550