Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Horrible Histories - Barmy Britain Review

In style, tone and crass joke abundance, Horrible Histories – Barmy Britain is satisfyingly close to Terry Deary’s books, on which it is based. It’s a whirlwind, whistle-stop tour through the funniest of the lot, updated for the 21st century stage. In Ruthless Romans, pickled fish guts are on the menu in Masterchef; in the Slimy Stuarts, Guy Fawkes appears as a contestant in Who Wants to Blow Up Parliament?; in the Frightful First World War, Earl Haig returns from the Somme to be blown to pieces in the board room, by a vicious Alan Sugar.

As staunch supporters of the Horrible Histories in getting kids into history, we thoroughly recommend this show for families and school parties. The fun historical content, catchy songs and fart jokes are for a target age group of about 6 to 12, though suitable too for the very young. However, as well as pitching itself to the original readers of the books, the show has also done well to appeal to the larger variety of audience ages who enjoy the CBBC television programme. Parents will enjoy nods to parodies of modern television, particularly the Benedict Martin’s caricatures of Phil from Relocation, Relocation, and The Apprentice tycoon, Alan Sugar. If, for adults, the level of humour is a little less sophisticated than the television programme, we think this is entirely in keeping with the demands of the changed medium.

The impressive enthusiasm of the two actors, Lauryn Redding and Martin, never lets up, and is enjoyably infectious. At only an hour long, there are noticeable gaps in history, and there is no mention of dates, which might confuse a younger history enthusiast. Historical accuracy or complexity is clearly not the aim of the show; hilariously, ‘Henry VIII was a very fat man,/ He liked to stuff his face from a frying pan’ is the chorus line of the most catchy song. Though we think it was right not to overload this show with dates and facts, it does well in proliferating stereotype. Nevertheless, there are one or two interesting nuggets you might not have known. You’ll find out how far the British advanced for every soldier killed in the Somme; it is a shockingly small distance, showing that even the most exaggerated, funny historical accounts can also be poignant.

Barmy Britain certainly left us with the firm impression that history is ruthless, vile, terrible, vicious, frightful, slimy and horrible, in all the best ways. It is equally patriotic and ironic and shows the fantastic ability of Britain to laugh at itself. Excellent entertainment for all the family, and (maybe) educational too.

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