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Horrible Histories: Barmy Britain – Part Four review

“Daft, dirty, and gleefully puerile”

The fourth instalment of Birmingham Stage Company’s long running sketch show based on the delightfully nasty children’s franchise, Horrible Histories: Barmy Britain provides the usual short, sharp shock of historical trivia, low-key satire, and poop jokes.

Compared to previous productions, this is a stripped-down affair, lacking the usual impressive visuals, and performed by a cast of two, one of whom is the show’s writer and director Neal Foster.

Fortunately, there is still plenty of offbeat silliness on offer. Anthony Spargo throws himself gamely into playing an assortment of historical figures with finely pitched hamming. Foster, meanwhile, revels in relaying all the gory details, pausing now and then to offer deadpan disclaimers, or swing a dead cat at the audience.

Their appealing chemistry lends real energy to the procession of tenuously related sketches they trot out, which poke fun at a range of historical misconceptions, from the dubious “evidence” presented at witch trials, to the sustained character assassination suffered by actually fairly respectable monarch Richard III.

While the tone wobbles uneasily from infantile to downright grisly, and though the pace tends to drop off during the ponderous costume changes, things bounce back during a handful of excellent songs. Set to Matthew Scott’s score – all peppy oompah and intentionally discordant accordion – these take in a Viking rap battle and a duet between Mary I and Mary Stuart. The show highlight is a pun-laden number riffing on Jason Derulo’s ‘Talk Dirty,’ where Victorian cesspit attendants discuss their daily business.

Production Details
Production nameHorrible Histories: Barmy Britain – Part Four review
VenueApollo Theatre
StartsAugust 3
EndsSeptember 1
Running time1hr 5mins
AuthorNeal Foster
ComposerMatthew Scott
DirectorNeal Foster
ChoreographerKenn Oldfield
Set designerJacqueline Trousdale
Lighting designerJason Taylor
Sound designerNick Sagar
CastAnthony Spargo, Neal Foster
Production managerAdrian Littlejohns
ProducerBirmingham Stage Company
VerdictWobbly fourth episode of Neal Foster’s subversive family show remains daft, dirty, and gleefully puerile
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Dave Fargnoli

Dave Fargnoli

Dave Fargnoli

Dave Fargnoli

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