One thing to consider when booking tickets for the new West End production by the Birmingham Stage Company is the name. Horrible Histories is every bit as horrible as the title suggests.
There is blood and guts galore in Barmy Britain, now appearing at the Garrick Theatre on Charing Cross Road. Over the course of just one hour, actors Lauryn Redding and Benedict Martin race through the goriest events from Britain’s dark past.
The pair, who have both appeared in previous Horrible Histories’ productions, introduce the audience to the likes of ruthless Romans, vicious Vikings and that most terrible of Tudors, Henry VIII. They bring their subjects to life with quirky takes on hit TV shows like Manky Chef and Who Wants To Blow Up Parliament.
Terry Deary is one of Britain’s best-selling authors and last year was the tenth most borrowed author in British libraries. His Horrible Histories series has instilled a generation of children with a love of history, which their teachers might not have thought possible. He dusts down dreary episodes from the past and appeals to kids with his wicked sense of humour and attention to deathly detail.
My boys were thrilled when I told them I had tickets for Barmy Britain. They loved the actors’ high-energy performances and laughed their way through many of the skits. My eight-year-old considered himself a little too cool for the audience participation, but his six-year-old brother joined in the song about Henry VIII’s worried wives with gusto – happily performing the actions to divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.
If I’m being honest, I had my doubts and exchanged a couple of knowing looks with other slightly uneasy parents. But I kept quiet while all around me were laughing and guffawing.
Then it all went a bit too far for my boys as the pair started describing the gruesome executions of tens of thousands of commoners at Tyburn (now Marble Arch). After a particularly grisly explanation of what it meant to be hung, drawn and quartered, the dancing duo moved on to the story of Victorian “baby farmer” Amelia Dyer. If it happened today, would I be happy to let my little ones watch a news story about a prolific murderer of babies?
At this point it became clear that the content wasn’t just washing over my sons’ heads, as I’d initially convinced myself. Separately, they both turned to me saying that the show was “really gross”, and my oldest did so with his bottom lip quivering.
I fully appreciate how clever and popular Horrible Histories is with both children and adults alike and I hate to be the prudish parent. But, based on my children’s reactions, I disagree with the published age recommendation of six years and over. That said, the show is likely to be a great hit and much-loved by older children and teenagers.
Horrible Histories at the Garrick Theatre until 1 September 2012. Book tickets