Horrible Histories: Barmy Britain

Horrible Histories photograph by Mark Douet lr
Ben Martin and Pip Chamberlin star in Horrible Histories. Photograph: Mark Douet
 
By Tim Saunders
 
It’s not every day that my wife extracts a sword from a man’s throat. But that’s what happens on our way to Theatre Royal, Winchester. We stop in our tracks as a group is huddled around the Great Gareth, who we last saw in the city a decade ago juggling a chainsaw. This time he is playing with fire and then sword swallowing in between making jokes at passers-by. All good humoured street entertainment.
We leave just in time for Horrible Histories: Barmy Britain, a brand new West End production that is touring the UK. In this hour-long performance there are just two actors (Ben Martin and Pip Chamberlin), no set changes or interval. It’s a 5pm show and so we know it’s going to be a challenge for Henry (3) but he has for once had a power nap and we have brought a supply of chocolate pancakes that he devours throughout the performance.
This show cannot be faulted - it’s absolutely fantastic, full of facts, humour and exceptional acting and singing that has us all gripped for the duration. Not just that but the simple set works a treat and there’s a very clever box that doubles up as a boat and a train carriage. There are numerous costume changes, which are slick and help maintain interest.
It starts with the death of St Alban, which happened guess where? He died for being a Christian.
Barmy Britain is a production for our times. If you think that we live in a mad period, that’s nothing compared to the past. We enjoy a whistle stop tour of history from Roman times through to Tudor and Victorian. We learn that William Huskisson MP was the world’s first railway passenger casualty as he was run over by Stephenson’s Rocket.
The portrayal of the last woman to be burnt for petty treason (murdering her husband) is hard hitting but also receives the humorous treatment that has Harriett (8) in stitches.
We also discover that King James I, the Scottish king of England, wrote a book about witches and killed thousands of women as a result of his bizarre beliefs.
But the most memorable part for me is the sketch about the night soil men who cleaned out the toilets in Victorian days...
 
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