Ciaran McConville’s stage adaptation of Terry Deary’s The Ruthless Romans for the Birmingham Stage Company’s sequence of Horrible Histories packs a great deal of information into its two hours. It also manages to bring the distant past into life, thoroughly involving the young audience (not to mention their elders) as young British farmer Ethel (Lauryn Redding) finds out the hard way how the Romans came to rule the world.
Her tutors in this brutal as well as hilarious lesson are a centurion (Luke Broughton) and his road-building cohorts Beardimus (Michael Moulton) and Belchimus (Gary Wilson). Between them, with much role-swapping, they canter us through the legendary founding of the City by Romulus and Remus, through the Republic and onto the Empire. Oh yes, and they also take in Spartacus’ slave revolt and Boudica’s rebellion on the way, not to mention gladiatorial combat and the social pecking-order.
As well as this heady mix of fact and frolic, Phil Clark’s direction allows for some excellent projected scene-shifting by [Jacqueline Trousdale} and the usual eye-boggling 3D effects by Amazing Interactives – I particularly liked the crocodile in the arena and the fine hill-fort battle sequence from both the British and Roman viewpoints. The cast, swapping wigs, costumes and sex as required, play it all with enthusiasm and relish the dafter moments, such as Julius Caesar as a television game-show contestant.