Horrid Henry – Live & Horrid!

This John Godber adaptation of the books by Francesca Simon illustrated by Tony Ross and the CITV series is certainly a play for children rather than a children’s show. It has high production values and largely eschews the audience interaction which can destroy theatrical magic.

Designer Pip Leckenby gives us a chequered set with openings – large and small – at all levels and on all sides. You’re never sure which one is going to fly open next or what it will reveal. That might be people, or bits of them, a drum-kit or even a time machine. Director Hannah Chissick has picked a cast that swaps roles at the flick of a wig, dance energetically and make it perfectly credible that we’re watching grown-ups be (for the most part) sub-teenagers.

In real life, you wouldn’t want to know Henry and would probably not much care for his younger brother the all-too-perfect Peter. On page and on stage, he’s every little boy’s secret alter ego. Steven Tagg is very good as Henry, the despair of his parents, the terror of babysitters and the wrecker of any class in which he finds himself. Horrid Henry Too is Chris Carswell, a true lookalike with a distinct personality.

Alex Tregear plays Peter with Rachael Swift and Philip Bosworth as their long-suffering parents; Bosworth also has a nice line in grotesques (from a child’s point of view). Esther Shelmerdine, Howie McCullough, Ruth Calkin and Christopher Thorpe complete the cast. The actors are miked, but this sound enhancement is discreet, unlike Henry’s favourite rock band The Killer Rats.

The set-piece scenes – the dance class and performance, the inter-class football match, the disastrous sleep-over, the time machine trickery – work splendidly and hold the audience’s attention. They key line comes, perhaps, with the final rock concert number – “the boy on that stage will be me!”