HORRIBLE HISTORIES: Terrible Tudors
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Wednesday 23rd October, 2019
Based on the popular series of children’s non-fiction books by the extremely popular and prolific Terry Deary, this show by the Birmingham Stage Company is playing in tandem with Awful Egyptians, which I imagine is just as much fun.
A cast of three, led by Doctor Dee (played in this performance by director Neal Foster) take us through the reign of the Tudors, from the defeat of Richard III at Bosworth Field through to the succession of James I after the demise of Elizabeth. Along the way, there are interludes examining other aspects of Tudor society, like the cruel punishments meted out to criminals (some hilarious practical effects here) and the disgusting elements of medical practice.
Foster is a delight, whether its in one of his many characters (including Henry VIII) or when he’s addressing the audience with a good old-fashioned ‘Shut your face!’. He is supported by a more-than-able pair, Dross (Lisa Allen) and Drab (Izaak Cainer) who take on all the other roles, as well as being enjoyable characters in their own right.
The facts come as thick and as fast as the jokes. The declamatory style of storytelling is leavened by silly voices and camp gestures, and the action is augmented by cartoony sound effects (thanks to Nick Sagar) and animated projections on the screen that forms the backdrop. The performance style owes much to Monty Python and pantomime, and the script has a touch of the Carry-Ons, without the bawdiness. There are plenty of mentions of poo and grisly deaths to keep the kids fascinated, while the adults will find much to enjoy in the execution (heh) of the comic business by these three talented players.
The second half has the added ingredient of 3D effects to make you flinch and gasp, as the Spanish Armada is blown to splinters and blood from the botched execution of Mary Queen of Scots splatters across the screen. There are catchy songs, including one to help you remember the fates of Henry VIII’s wives, and even Will. I. Am. Shakespeare crops up with a version of I Gotta Feeling. The anachronisms make the history accessible and keep the laughs coming.
And then, as the reign and life of Elizabeth come to an end, she recaps the dynasty, in a powerful moment from Lisa Allen, bringing depth and gravitas to the piece – but don’t worry, there’s another catchy song to round things off.
Thoroughly enjoyable, informative and hilarious, this Horrible History makes for Terrific Theatre.