Did you know that Burke and Hare were, in fact, Irish? That Guy Fawkes took with him enough gunpowder to blow up 27 parliaments? Or that Anne Boleyn had six fingers on one hand? If you didn’t, then a fount of historical knowledge awaits you at the Pleasance Courtyard.
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Starting life as a series of books by Terry Deary, Horrible Histories has become something of a boom industry. Writer/director Neil Foster has been staging shows inspired by the books (and co-written by Deary) since 2006, and three years later the hugely popular TV series went on air.
Do not, however, go along to Barmy Britain expecting to see the cast of the CBBC programme spring out on stage. This a whole other offshoot from the books, created by Birmingham Stage Company, and performed by two talented actors who can switch characters, and centuries, with the whisk of a cloak.
For lovers of the TV series, however, there are many similarities to be found here. Foster and fellow-performer Alison Fitzjohn work their way from the Romans to the early 20th century, using straightforward sketches, songs, and television pastiche to tell their tales, including Roman Manky Chef and Who Wants To Blow Up Parliament?
There are plenty of laughs to be found here, from the yucky (Roman fish guts) to the clever (a rap between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn where he tries to compose Greensleeves which, it transpires, he never wrote). But Foster is also unafraid to make us stop and think. There are a few key moments here – Boleyn’s beheading, the tale of a “baby farmer” in Edinburgh, and the horrific death toll of the First World War – when we’re given pause for thought.
Foster and Fitzjohn should be in every school history class across the land. Or, given how little most of us know about who came before us, maybe that should be every living room.
Until 26 August. Today 12 noon.