What fun Neal Foster and Morgan Philpott are having on the stage of the Apollo Theatre in London’s West End after the curtain has finally gone up on the new Horrible Histories Barmy Britain that was supposed to open in 2020.
Foster has also written and directed the show, with plenty of input from Terry Deary who is behind the phenomenal educational franchise that sees the new generation have a better grasp of history thanks to his focus on fun facts and gory details to bring the past to life. The stage production has plenty of devices that the young audience will recognise from the TV series, while also being entirely its own thing. And with references to the recent pandemic, it is bang up to date.
This particular show is a rollicking romp through the long line of British rulers from Anglo Saxon times to the present day, with catchy songs by Matthew Scott, including the opening “he’s Great” about Alfred the Great, that got early laughs from the audience and set the tone of the next hour of fun. Norman the Conquerer appears as a bad-boy rapper, while Henry VIII helps us remember the order of his wives deaths with the catchy: “divorced, beheaded, died/ divorced, beheaded, survived.”
A particularly absorbing and informative sketch is about how Scotland colonised New Caledonia only to bankrupt itself and force a union with England. And if you were ever unsure about your King Georges, then the Georgian song will help you get them straight, particularly the ending of the period with a William who is keen to join the song even though his name is not George.
As a 45-year-old adult there was plenty of history in this show that I didn’t know (that 70,000 people were executed during Henry VIII’s reign for example), while also having plenty of toilet humour to please the younger members of the audience. Foster and Philpott put in a Herculean effort with an incredibly wordy script and inumerable costume and accent changes; it is like they have been storing up all their energy during the pandemic and are ready to spend every last drop of it during each performance. You will certainly be entertained and will leave the theatre better informed, too.
Apollo Theatre, 31 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, W1D 7EZ
29 July – 28 August 2021
Running time: 70 minutes