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Horrible Histories: Barmy Britain – Part Four | Review

Barmy Britain Part 4 by Birmingham Stage Company. Anthony Spargo (Roger) and Neal Foster (Rex) Photo by Mark Douet.
Barmy Britain Part 4 by Birmingham Stage Company. Anthony Spargo (Roger) and Neal Foster (Rex) Photo by Mark Douet.

The onus is on the anus. That is to say that farts, poo, do do, diarrhoea and number twos are what makes Horrible Histories the world’s best-selling children’s history book series. It’s history with the nasty bits left in and of course, children absolutely love it. Sitting in the Apollo theatre yesterday at the matinee of Barmy Britain Part Four, I laughed myself silly and oh how I wished that the Horrible Histories was available to me as a child. First appearing in 1993 Horrible Histories are the best thing to have happened to children’s history ever, I would say.

Written, directed and performed by Neal Foster for the Birmingham Stage Company Barmy Britain Part Four presents a series of episodes from the Romans to Brexit to explore why Britain is so barmy. Neal as Rex alongside his comic partner Roger (Anthony Spargo) delight, inform and entertain for 70 minutes. With nothing more than two dressing up boxes, to which they scamper and change between scenes, they make history hilarious. Alliteration and puns are the key. Notice their names, Rex and Roger. Every scene played with alliteration. Alban and Albran in the Rotten Romans scene, where the pagan Alban saves Alfred the Christian. As Alfred says he died in St Albans what a coincidence. This first scene has a brilliant fart joke. Alfred invites Alban to pray. So Alban faithfully copies everything Alfred does, kneels, puts his hands together, burps and farts because that’s what Alfred has done. So in this way Alban thinks that Christian ritual involves burping and farting. Of course the children in the audience love this misunderstanding. It’s this capacity to shift from the serious to the scatological that explains the phenomenal appeal of Horrible Histories.

Farts, poo, alliteration, puns and humour provide the ingredients for the show but of course, it has to be acted live on stage and that requires great skill. Neal Foster and Anthony Spargo are superb. They work perfectly as a double act. In the course of the show, they play numerous characters (Romans, Christians, Vicious Vikings, Terrifying Tudors, King James 1, Samuel Pepys, Vile Victorian’s and night soil men), switching costumes, genders and accents in a jiffy. They are especially impressive in the song and dance routines. None more so than the number ‘Get Dirty With Me’ which they perform to illustrate the job of the Victorian ‘night soil men’. They place a toilet seat on a bucket and mimic doing a number two then as they shovel poo from the backs of houses to the cart hip-hopping their way through the song ‘Get Dirty With Me’ the audience cracks up. It’s a wonderful way to get children to reflect on life before then flushing the toilet. History with the nasty bits left in.

5 Star Rating

Review by John O’Brien

Horrible Histories: Barmy Britain – Part Four follows the sell-out successes of Barmy Britain – Parts One, Two and Three as well as the most recent ‘Best of’ productions. Barmy Britain – Part Four opens on 3 August with previews from the 2 August and runs until 1 September. Tickets go on sale via Amazon Tickets pre-sale on 5 February and general sale on 9 February.

We all want to meet people from history. The trouble is everyone is dead! So it’s time to prepare yourselves for Horrible Histories Live on Stage with a brand new show featuring all new scenes in Barmy Britain – Part Four!

Be reduced to rubble by the ruthless Romans! Would you be shaken or stirred by Richard III? Mount a mutiny against King Henry VIII! See Mary Tudor knock the spots off Mary Queen of Scots! Will Queen Elizabeth I endure her terrible teeth? Would you be hanged by King James I for being a witch?

Peep into the world of Samuel Pepys and help Georgian detectives find the headless man! Take a trip into the night with the night soil men and discover how to survive the first ever train ride! After six sensational years in the West End, Barmy Britain is back with a brand-new world première!

Barmy Britain Part 4
6th August – 1st September 2018


  • John OBrien

    JOHN O’BRIEN born in London in 1960 is a born and bred Londoner. His mother was an illiterate Irish traveller. His early years were spent in Ladbroke Grove. He was born at number 40 Lancaster Road. In 1967 the family was rehoused in Hackney. He attended Brooke House School for Boys in Clapton, - as did Lord Sugar. He became head boy and was the first person in his family to make it to university, gaining a place at Goldsmiths College in 1978. He took a degree in Sociology and a PGCE . From 1982 until 1993 he taught at schools in Hackney and Richmond. In 1984-85 he attended Bristol University where he gained a Diploma in Social Administration. From 1985 until 1989 he studied part-time in the evenings for a degree in English Literature at Birkbeck College. He stayed on at Birkbeck from 1990-1992 to study for an MA in Modern English Literature. He left teaching in 1993 and has worked as a tutor, researcher, writer and tour guide. He leads bespoke guided tours on London’s history, art , architecture and culture. He has attended numerous courses at Oxford University - Exeter College, Rewley House & Kellogg College. In London, he attends courses at Gresham College, The National Gallery, The British Museum, The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, The British Academy and The Royal Society. Read the latest London theatre reviews by all reviewers.

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