Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories series of entertaining educational books are rightly beloved of schoolchildren everywhere, but although they’ve proved a commercial and critical hit in Deary’s own adaptations before, the switch from page to stage really doesn’t work here with Horrible Christmas.
The Alexandra Palace Theatre, open again after 80 years of darkness, is a handsome space with a shabby chic charm, but the show itself is traumatically tatty.
It shoe-horns some historical facts about Christmas in days gone by into a story about an excitable schoolboy, a time-travelling female Sherlock Holmes, an evil Santa and his pugnacious Reindeer.
It transports the audience to a Victorian Christmas, and show us Dickens writing A Christmas Carol; a Tudor Christmas, with King Henry VIII feasting on a bowel-busting buffet; and ancient Christmas, with the original Saint Nick.
The problem with Neal Foster’s production, briefly, is that the story flaps around all over the place, and the historical aspect feel entirely secondary to some genuinely dreadful songs and relentless fart jokes. Jacqueline Trousdale’s sliding set design is uninspiring and far too small for a space this big. And, to top it all, it’s also over two hours long.
The eight-strong cast are slick and game, particularly Chris Gunter as a fiendish Father Christmas, but although they engineer something close to fun with sing-alongs and silliness, they can’t stop this whole enterprise stinking of opportunistic Christmas commercialism, rather than anything genuinely educational.