Writer: Terry Deary
Director: Neal Foster
Reviewer: Matt Forrest
The Horrible Histories juggernaut has been rolling along for some years now. Starting life as a series of children’s books by actor/author Terry Deary published in 1993, the books were later turned into a TV series produced by CBBC from 2009 to the present day. Now in its sixth season and also having a BAFTA and a British Comedy Award: it would be fair to say the Horrible Histories franchise shows no sign of fading quietly into the past just yet.
The Birmingham Stage Company’s partnership with Deary has been a fruitful one. It is their collaborative effort which sees Horrible Christmas brought to life through the tale of evil Sydney Claus and his trusty yet dim-witted henchman Rudolf who just happens to be a Reindeer. The pair are traveling through space and time to put an end to Christmas once and for all, however, what the devious duo hadn’t banked on is that of the determination of a young girl named Wendy Watson and her new best buddy Shirley Holmes who together hope to save Christmas.
On our journey, we meet with a writer’s block suffering Charles Dickens and a group of 17th Century puritans led by Oliver Cromwell, who has banned all games being played on Christmas Day: which include football and Pokémon Go, much to the dismay of the younger audience members.
This is good old fashioned silly fun, performed in the festive panto mould: lots of fart and bottom gags, a spot of audience participation, and a good old sing-a-long. Chuck in a few jokes for the adults and you have all the trappings of a great show. However what sets this apart from the more traditional Christmas show is you actually learn something as well: Good King Wenceslas wasn’t a king at all just a prince who was murdered by his brother and A Christmas Carol has been made into a film 28 times (I actually thought it would be more, the amount of times it’s on).
The cast are on top form, Chris Gunter is fantastic as Sydney Claus as is Ashley Bowden as Rudolph, the two make a likeable, all be it devious duo. Rebecca Livermore brings a degree of charm to the role of the plucky Wendy. It’s a difficult skill for an adult to play a child without it becoming grating or irritating but Livermore judges it perfectly, she constantly tries and succeeds to keep the younger audience members engaged and participating as and when required. Lauryn Redding is solid as Shirley Holmes; however, the undoubted star of the show is Neal Foster in several roles which include Charles Dickens and Henry VIII, clearly relishing each role and simply having a ball. His turn as the hair dresser and monarch elect Charles II, with a slight hint of our current Prince of Wales and more than a dash of Reggae Reggae Sauce is one of the funniest scenes witnessed in any production or comedy show.
It’s a difficult job attempting to make puritan England or the court of Henry VIII seem entertaining to a troop of young children and probably some adults as well, but the Horrible Histories team do exactly that. There are a few special effects to show the heroes and villains as the race through time on the magical sleighs; however, the main strength is the writing. At its heart, Horrible Christmas has a good, fun, silly script which not only helps to educate about history but also carries a strong message about family and the possible anxiety over a new arrival into the family.
With a running time of two hours including an interval, the time flew by with a show that is fun, educational and entertaining. If you fancy something a little different for your family Christmas show this year then look no further than Horrible Christmas.
Runs until 8 January 2017 | Image: Ian Tilton