Horrible Histories – Terrible Tudors, Birmingham Stage Company. Theatre Royal, Brighton
The Theatre Royal saw Terry Deary’s enduringly popular series brought larger-than-life – just like its main villain, Henry the VIIIth – as a cast of three and some very special effects painted a memorably gruesome picture of life under the Terrible Tudors.
The Birmingham Stage Company, under the direction of Benedict Martin, alternates two different shows – Awful Egyptians and Terrible Tudors – each night, and while I can’t speak for the former, our show went down extremely well with the packed audience of school kids, teachers, parents and families.
The pace of the show is snappy, and pitched just right between concisely informative (they managed to explain Henry VIII’s split from Rome and creation of the Church of England very ably using the metaphor of opposing football teams) uproariously funny – Izaac Cainer’s cameos as various unfortunate criminals being sentenced to gruesome executions were particularly enjoyable – and really rather disturbing. I learned things I didn’t know, and there was pathos amongst the gruesome humour: the image of an aged, increasingly unpopular Elizabeth I, the last Tudor, feverishly trailing the Palace corridors waving a rusty sword against the imagined enemies she knew were going to inevitably win, when her murdered cousin Mary’s son James took the throne after her, was hauntingly and skilfully portrayed.
The use of a 3-D screen set, viewed through 3-D glasses, in the second half added a whole other dimension to the fun and frights, literally – we had fireworks, cannon balls and even skulls viscerally shooting right towards our faces – a touch which might have been a bit too much for young children or those of a particularly delicate disposition!
Simon Nock and Lisa Allen were Dr Dee and Dross to Cainer’s Drab, and they showed remarkable skill in playing every character, switching costumes, accents and scenes seamlessly. They proved adept at getting their young audience involved, too – at one point the auditorium was split down the middle into two teams, competing to see who could sing the ‘Divorced Beheaded Died, Divorced Beheaded Survived’ song loudest.
This show was absolutely as enjoyable for adults as for kids: I laughed, I learned, I cringed, I shivered, and yes -when that cannonball came flying towards me, I’ll admit, I shrieked. Catch it if you can.