You have to hand it to the Horrible Histories lot. A hugely popular kids TV show that actually makes learning fun and funny is, of course, now a theatrical staple.
The fourth part of the Barmy Britain franchise marks Horrible Histories’ seventh year in the West End. And Barmy Britain now has the distinction of being the only show in London theatreland history to launch a fourth sequel.
Fortunately, too, the fun and games have lost none of their zest and energy as two performers – Neal Foster (who also directs and writes) and Anthony Spargo – take us from the era of early Christianity to Victorian England with vim and brio.
We start with St Alban, the martyr Saint, head fast to the Vikings and then on the Richard III and another funny song as our two players swap costumes and accents with lightning speed.
Our journey takes in James I and his obsession with witches, Pepys, Mary Tudor and Mary Queen of Scots and ends in the C19th and a skit on the lives and experiences of the Night Soil Men who cleared the country’s latrines.
What is never lost in Birmingham Stage Company’s galloping production are the fart and poo jokes and the constant references to Brexit. Yes, Britain was as barmy then as it seems to be now, middle class parents are invited to titter, perhaps a little too frequently. But I suppose British theatre always does wear its liberal heart on its sleeves.
And few would fail to be engaged by this energetic duo who dash out the puns and the wordplay and the songs with uncompromising skill and dedication.
Yes, a two-hander running at just 70 minutes does smack of value-for-money theatre for stressed-out summer holiday parents. But when you’re rising on the back of a franchise as good as this, it would be churlish to complain too much. As a summer entertainment, it’s pretty good, and thankfully the air conditioning worked. If it hadn’t? Well, that would really have been barmy…
Horrible Histories – Barmy Britain Part Four! Is at the Apollo, Shaftesbury Avenue until September 1. Box Office: 0330 333 4809