We never really liked doing history at my school, but had the lessons been like this show I am sure that I, and all my classmates, would have absolutely loved it. Never before have I seen so many children sit in silence while listening to tales of the monarchs and important dates of Tudor times. It certainly helped that they were dispensed with songs, comedy, dancing and more than a little gore.
[Terry Deary’s] books cover just about every named race and age in time, from the Stone Age through the Greeks, Romans, Aztecs and Incas all the way up to the Second World War. The series has totally transformed children’s perception of history and they go a long way towards making the subject – dare I say it? – fun.
The stage show brings all that the books have to offer, and lots more besides, and – in a really bizarre combination which appears to be half documentary and half pantomime – succeeds in keeping the entire audience mesmerised. All ages from nine to ninety are catered for in a production which, whilst aimed firmly at the predominantly child audience, holds a few surprises for those of us whose school days are a distant memory.
On the night that I went along the five strong cast was reduced, for some unexplained reason, to just four with [Joseph O’Malley] sadly missing. This left Simon Lloyd taking the lead part of Doctor Dee, together with Laura Crowhurst and Pip Chamberlin as his assistants Dross and Drab. The final character is Miss Tree, played by Lynette Clarke, who reminded me, quite vividly, of every history teacher I had at school.
The first act is a cornucopia of facts and figures which leads the audience from the very start of the Tudor era, with Richard III’s defeat to Henry VII, through to the six wives of Henry VIII. The interval is then heralded with a pantomime-style singalong to help the children remember what happened to each of the wives.
Act two is altogether different with the introduction of the wonderfully-named 3D Bogglevision. This enables the show to quite literally explode into the auditorium and, to the excited shrieks and squeals of hundreds of children, that is exactly what happens. The Spanish Armada, the demise of Mary, Queen of Scots and the life and death of Queen Elizabeth all get the 3D treatment and, helped by the superb sound effects, the production really comes to life.
The spontaneous and enthusiastic standing ovation by the packed house showed almost too well that history, when you leave the horrible bits in, really does engage children.