Horrible Histories holds a very special place in my heart: I grew up with the books as a child and still watch the (much too young for me!) TV show on CBBC, because it’s hilarious. From the Rotten Romans to the Groovy Greeks, every night without fail ten-year-old me would relish opening up one of Terry Deary’s fantastic creations to dabble in some funny historical facts before bed.
Whether or not you are as much of a fan as me, A Horribly Wonderful Time does not disappoint as an evening of theatre to enjoy with your family. Kids of all ages were screaming and laughing as they dived under 3D snakes and arrows, sang their hearts out in competition with opposing sides of the theatre, and witnessed a lot of slapstick, fart jokes and men in drag (the British triumvirate of comedy gold).
Initially I was a little disappointed with the production as most of it appeared to focus on the use of a large screen with scene backgrounds projected on to it, which the cast failed to interact much with this at the start. More could have been done to make something of the theatre element of the production from the get-go, as it felt a little like watching the TV show performed live. Considering all the 3D effects it felt, ironically, very 2D.
However, this screen soon came into its own when I saw how the children reacted to it. It’s interesting that as an adult you can forget how things seem as a child. You forget that history is difficult and boring mostly, and that there is a lot of complex information to take in. The focus of this production was Incredible Invaders, or a run-through of all the recorded invasions of Britain before William the Conqueror. That’s over 1000 years of history – something that children are expected to just ‘get’ under the national curriculum. The screen made the ‘boring’ stuff come to life, helping to provide a visualisation for some of the important details that the cast satirised, such as maps, names, battle numbers, so that some details and fact sunk in whilst the kids still had a good time with silly 3D dogs and snakes. This is exactly what Horrible Histories is all about: kids having fun while learning history.
To have just four actors portraying hundreds of characters all within an hour and a half was a feat in itself, but to also keep the children’s attention was another altogether. I was particularly impressed with the enthusiastic lead Briton, Mavis, that jumped around battling invaders for the whole show.
Horrible Histories: Incredible Invaders was a fun and informative show clearly enjoyed by kids of all ages. The true highlight for me was the ending, which had a beautiful and inclusive message: “diversity of culture is what makes Britain great, if you want a purer Britain, you’re 2000 years too late!”