Along with David Walliams and Jeff Kinney, Terry Deary must be regarded as one of the most successful authors for children and certainly one of the most prolific. His website states “I am the writer of 339 books - fiction and non-fiction - published in the past 45 years, selling over 36+ million copies in 45 languages”. Almost one third of his output comes under the general heading of Horrible Histories, his fact-based but highly entertaining take on past world events. As Deary lists his first profession as not writer but actor it is perhaps not surprising that stage shows of the books have emerged; there are two currently on tour with a third Christmas special due to join them in December. Taking up a month's residency at the Garrick Theatre is Terrible Tudors.

I've only watched the odd BBC TV show of the franchise but this staged version seems to follow much the same pattern. An often scatological take on historic events this one fits in all the Tudor monarchs and throws in Richard III, Mary Queen of Scots and Lady Jane Grey for good measure. And although the show tends to concentrate on the courtly doings of the nobility there are some interesting diversions into crime and punishment of the era and even, educationally, an inquiry into how the Elizabethans helped to kick start the slave trade. Deary and Neal Foster's script pleasingly does not shy away from some of the harsh realities of the era which, of course, makes it engaging as well as fact-filled.

With a cast of just two there's plenty to admire here as they take on a whole galaxy of real and imagined characters. Emma Swann and the aforementioned Foster (a busy bee as he also directs) are bundles of pure energy and attack everything with gusto, with some swift changes of costume and some even swifter alterations of accent and delivery. Some of these are outrageously over the top – Philip of Spain I'm looking at you – some even border on the bizarre. Who, for instance, would have thought that Sir Francis Drake was evidently a distant ancestor of Tommy Cooper (not that the vast majority of the predominantly young audience would have known who that was - so definitely a gag for the old ‘uns)? Among many others, Foster gets to be Richard III and Henry VIII (in, apparently, his good looking phase) while Swan takes on Henry VII, Elizabeth I and the whole sextet of the variously fortuned Henry VIII wives. This leads to an interactive take on the old “Divorced, beheaded, died…”mnemonic. There are several other points where audience participation is openly encouraged as well as plenty of songs and a good deal of puppetry; well it is basically a show for the younger element.

At seventy minutes the show is just a perfect length for the target audience (age recommendation is 5 – 105!) and there's a very well designed souvenir programme, with illustrations by regular Horrible Histories collaborator Martin Brown, to keep the event alive afterwards. I enjoyed both the show and experiencing the reactions of the audience who despite the terrible summer weather outside were lapping it up. The only “terrible” thing about this show is in the title.

Horrible Histories: Terrible Tudors is currently playing at the Garrick Theatre (you can find tickets from £23 here) and then tours until Christmas.


Review: BottomLine        Photo: Mark Douet