Home » London Theatre Reviews » Horrible Histories: Barmy Britain – Part Five! | Review

Horrible Histories: Barmy Britain – Part Five! | Review

In all its sensational silliness and surreptitious edification, the latest incarnation of Horrible Histories Live: Barmy Britain – Part 5 delivers. Energetic and pacey, Neal Foster and Morgan Philpott take the audience on a whirlwind, mad-capped gallop through vignettes covering more than a millennium of British history, from Saxon warrior queens to 1980s palace security ineptitude.

Barmy Britain Part 5 by Birmingham Stage Company. Credit Mark Douet - Birmingham Stage Company.
Barmy Britain Part 5 by Birmingham Stage Company. Credit Mark Douet – Birmingham Stage Company.

As proper family entertainment, this is a show that has plenty for the grown-ups (I promise you’ll learn something you didn’t know); whilst the goofier, physical comedy elements delight the children – with no one feeling like they have to wait their turn to be entertained. So good is the showmanship and so credible is the historical dimension that, I began wondering about the historiography of it and was still pretty satisfied. Despite over a thousand years of history being enacted by two white men (and also written and directed by one of them, Neal Foster [Rex]), the production opened strong with a skit reminding us that ‘the great men of history’ approach is not the only way to see things. The various sketches still centred heavily around royalty – with sufficient doses of the ridiculous. Although I’d love to see Barmy Britain Part 6 bring to life some of the horrible histories of imperialism and a more diverse exploration of social history (the brand, after all, is about horrible history in all its absurdity and gross-out dimensions and has never shied away from the unpleasant), this production will syncopate with what most primary-aged kids are learning in school and provides plenty of seasoning to make the national curriculum far more flavourful for the average junior school pupil.

In fact, my co-critics attended on their ninth birthday and were forceful in their endorsement of the show’s entertainment value. (In other words, they had not been dragged to a lecture on their birthday but felt thoroughly feted by this experience as a treat.) They liked the catchy tunes and the invitation to interact. The production is pretty universally ‘relaxed’ and invites engagement without feeling cringey. Several days later they are still re-enacting bits of business from the stage show – delivered with Swiss-watch comic timing by both leads, even in previews.

The production values, whilst simple, were tight and the transitions smooth – whilst still preserving a sense of the spontaneous and moving along without any lulls. The great thing about this show is you will absolutely emerge with a few new insights and plenty to talk about, without ever feeling like you’ve attended a lesson. As Britain gets barmier and barmier, it’s reassuring to know that the satirical talent that observes it, is as sharp as ever whilst being thoroughly age-appropriate for its audience.

5 Star Rating

Review by Mary Beer

Will you be conquered by King William? Will you sink or swim with King Henry I? Will Thomas Becket get the chop? Go house hunting with King Henry VIII! Join the gorgeous Georgians as they take over England! Break into Buckingham Palace and hide from the Queen, then watch out for the witch of World War Two!

Horrible Histories – Barmy Britain – Part 5
Apollo Theatre, London

Horrible Histories Live Onboard – Terrible Thames!
Tower Bridge Quay, London

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Author

  • Mary Beer

    Mary graduated with a cum laude degree in Theatre from Columbia University’s Barnard College in New York City. In addition to directing and stage managing several productions off-Broadway, Mary was awarded the Helen Prince Memorial Prize in Dramatic Composition for her play Subway Fare whilst in New York. Relocating to London, Mary has worked in the creative sector, mostly in television broadcast and production, since 1998. Her creative and strategic abilities in TV promotion, marketing and design have been recognised with over 20 industry awards including several Global Promax Golds. She is a founder member of multiple creative industry and arts organisations and has frequently served as an advisor to the Edinburgh International TV Festival.

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