The Horrible Histories books are proving popular in performance, both on television and touring theatres. Based on Terry Deary’s books, this production – in rep at the King’s with Vile Victorians – offers plenty of juicy details about the Tudor monarchs, from Henry VII to Elizabeth I.
Within a framework created by Dr Dee’s troupe of travelling players meeting an officious teacher – the former all for horrible histories and the latter for conservative monarch praising – the various Terrible Tudors are presented against a screen that provides scenic backdrops and animation, including some in 3D. The use of the latter drew away from the live entertainment a little, particularly in the stories of the Armada and of Mary, Queen of Scots, losing connection with the audience, but was well utilised for times of various objects hurtling through the air and the Mary story included gruesome visuals sure to please the gore-appreciators that so many children are.
There is a great deal of fun in the characters portrayed, with the four strong cast – when really committing to their roles – provoking the audience to interaction and to genuine applause already at the interval. Ashley Bowden as Drab was particularly good at gaining responses, Tessa Vale as Dross very animated, Amanda Wright let rip with Elizabeth I, and Christopher Gunter as Dr Dee actually achieved some differing levels within the caricatures that are the Horrible Histories characters, with a fine line in menace and impressive vocal and physical versatility. While it is always somewhat disappointing to find microphones in use for a theatre like the King’s, mike effects and loud supporting sound- and music-scapes – often appropriately booming and doom-laden – at least put this technology to good use.
Terrible Tudors offers repeat jokes, slapstick comedy, plenty of puking, some more ‘in-the-know’ wit (such as Dr Dee crying out against a ‘demon’), sections such as Cruelty to Criminals and Manky Medecine, kitchen utensils used as killing weapons, and plenty of titbits of historical fact that can still surprise adults, along with audience participation and some fine looking side settings of mini landscapes done in a stained glass manner (probably of use mainly for shaping touring spaces and allowing quick changes).
The audience of children and a fair few adults responded warmly once the show was really on its way and (literally) huge characters such as Henry VIII filled the space (though there may be somewhat over much emphasis on ‘fatties’ for anyone conscious of bullying issues). The atmosphere became one of fun and participation, along with some ghoulish appreciation, and the script included ways to get kids showing their knowledge and understanding, even if it seemed ever so slightly lacking in wit compared to the television series.
The souvenir program also includes information, in the manner of the books, for both the Tudors and the Victorians, so that Terrible Tudors certainly does provide plenty of history in an enjoyable fashion, making for a fine family show that educates as it entertains.
Until 15th June 2013: Wed 10.30am, Thu 1.30pm, Fri 10.30am & Sat 2.30pm @ King’s Theatre