There’s little attempt in Mark Williams’ adaptation of Terry Deary’s Frightful First World War in the Horrible Histories series to minimise the nightmarw conditions of trench warfare. These are recounted through the experiences of Private Paul Turner, into whose world teenager Angelica is plunged one wet afternoon when playing a computer game. The gunfire which will punctuate the play is heralded in the thunderstorm raging outside her home.
Of course, there’s comedy and laughter amid the horrors. Leg amputation is one sure-fire gag, so is a cookery competition, into which the audience is cunningly inveigled. Angelica herself is a bit of a know-all, albeit one who needs some early 20th century facts to go with her 21st century presumptions. Perry Lambert makes her learning curve authentic and ultimately sympathetic. Julius Metson Scott is equally credible as Paul, recording life and the ever-present threat of death in his diary.
The causes of the conflict are neatly expounded by Laura Dalgleish and Ciaran McConville, representing between them first all the allied and central powers and later on a plethora of officer and other ranks. Phil Clark’s production gives us the Christmas truce, examples of the “black propaganda” which demonised each side to the other and a subtly injected dose of mortality statistics. Adult audience members may catch reflections of Oh What a Lovely War in some of this.
Amazing Interactives’ 3D special effects have been increasing in their magic and impact over the growth of the series. Jacqueline Trousdale gives them a chance to bring stage and audience into a cohesive whole with her projected settings, nicely blending illustrated book techniques with theatrical realism. And,whatever your age, the key line of “no-one said anything about a cease-fire – but the firing ceased” and the final poppy shower as Angelica’s computer sorts out its malfunction and returns her to the security of her own home are for all times and all places..