There’s nothing like a bit of toilet humour to get your weekend off to a flying start and at ‘Barmy Britain’s outing to Perth Theatre on Friday night the jokes were flying as much as the, um, poo shovels…
Part of the beloved Horrible Histories family of kids’ books and TV shows, Barmy Britain is a hilariously raucous gallop through Britain’s grim, grisly and poo-tastic past with characters from our history brought to life in ways our teachers never quite described them in school. Sigh. If the History Department had only had some decent wet-fart sound effects…
Barmy Britain is a hilariously raucous gallop through Britain’s grim, grisly and poo-tastic past
Adapted from Terry Deary’s books, Birmingham Stage Company’s writer and director Neal Foster makes sure the pacing is punchy throughout. To great effect - within minutes of starting, kids’ giggles are rippling across the audience as hosts for the evening Rex (Benedict Martin) and Roger (Pip Chamberlin) set the evening’s tone with a rib-tickling, fart-laced sketch about how the doomed St Albans came to, quite literally, lose his head.
Before long, it’s a full on laugh-out-loud chuckle-fest as we tear through a toilet-humoured timeline enjoying bite-sized tales of the great movers, shakers and moments of grisly history taking in the Vikings, Mary Queen of Scots and poor Samuel Pepys’s eye-watering bladder stone extraction to the perhaps lesser known, Night Soil Men (more of that later…!)
Wigs, hats and costumes hang from spokes on two giant lamp posts centre stage from which the limitlessly hilarious Rex and Roger make lightning-fast character changes. Even with history at this, its most humourous, the need for quick timing is key to keep the energy flowing and our hosts do it with style, precision and – with hilarious effect - the occasional misplaced wig.
Of course history has taught us much about the fiery-haired Queen Elizabeth I but we know very little about her terrible, rotting teeth. She liked sugar – even with her fruit and veg apparently – which although helping to further symbolise her wealth, also meant her mouth was a bit of a royal cesspit.
In amongst the belly laughs and the (eerily realistic) fart sound-effects, our hosts are striving to convey a message – that perhaps we shouldn’t be so willing to gobble up history as we’ve always heard it and to recognise that history tends to be written by the winners, not the losers.
For example, think you know Richard III? Think again. Here he shakes off the shackles of his misunderstood history with a few swipes at William Shakespeare and a peppy little ditty about being the only English monarch to be buried in a carpark. Whether it’s enough to change our minds on one of Shakespeare’s most notorious villains remains to be seen but our audience was left in no doubt that this Richard III had some pretty fly dance moves.
And there’s plenty of audience participation to keep you on your toes. Two young audience members Jessica and Julia braved the stage to prove to extreme historical witch-hunter King James I they were not witches. And of course, we all got a chance to participate in a good old fashioned sing off- about poo naturally!
There are of course, more beheadings, torture and hangings than you can shake a noose at but with just 65 minutes to play with, it’s all over too quickly.
I must confess to laughing so hard at this I actually embarrassed my nine year old!
But not before the Night Soil Men (so-called because it was their job to scoop up human poop from London’s houses) take the opportunity to rap about ‘Getting Dirty’ while they fling their dirty shovels about. I must confess to laughing so hard at this I actually embarrassed my nine year old!
Mercifully, Barmy Britain isn’t trying to stick to the national curriculum but its formula is wickedly clever, enticing and devilishly hilarious. What better way to learn about history than through some of its most alluring, spine-tingling and gross-centric stories?
We’re left with a timely, foot-tapping Brexit-toned number giving assurance that though Britain does indeed have a barmy past our current political climate will help ensure there are plenty more bonkers tales still to come (and perhaps a whole load more poop to shovel?)….
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