The Horrible Histories

17 August 08 words: Rob Cutforth
We send our Canadian columnist Rob to investigate Nottingham's gruesome fart-laden past

Horrible Histories Nottingham is exactly what is says on the tin.

It’s about Nottingham, It’s about its history and that history is indeed pretty horrible. Being a foreigner from the new world, I am fascinated by the history of this country so I thought this would be right up my alley.

Whenever I review anything, I like to go in cold so I did absolutely no research beforehand. It wasn’t until I entered the theatre and noticed I towered over most of its inhabitants that it dawned on me that this might be a children’s play. I suppose the fact that the show times are Thursdays and Saturdays at 10:30am should’ve tipped me off, but I’m a bit dense when it comes to those sorts of things.

I slouch down in my seat, put on my biggest pout and prepare myself for the worst.

There are three things I can’t stand when I watch a play. Overly bubbly actors, prop gags and horror of horrors, audience participation. Which is why I don’t really understand why I enjoyed this play despite the fact that it contained all three.

Well, maybe “enjoyed” is a strong word. “Didn’t hate it” might be closer to the mark, but to be fair, I, being one half of a DINK relationship (the male half at that) am not exactly their target audience.

Truly great children’s plays entertain the parents just as much as the kids. This one missed the mark slightly as the jokes meant for the parents weren’t very good (in fact, most were terrible and not in a good way), but Simon Davies plays a great heel with an incredible knack for making the unfunny tolerable. In fact, I don’t think the play would’ve been half as tolerable with a different actor.

Rachel Watkinson who played “Ella” was definitely there for the kids, which made her too sickly sweet for anyone over the age of 10 (think Lazytown) but as this is in fact a kid’s show, I suppose you’d expect that sort of thing. Note to self, do more pre-show research.

If the jokes in the script were rubbish, the actual history more than made up for it. Making education fun for kids is always a tricky business, but I think Deary pulled it off nicely. I’m not sure the kids absorbed any of the history bit, they were mostly concerned with making fart sounds on cue, but anyone that was in fact paying attention would’ve witnessed possibly the greatest cliff notes version of Nottingham’s history ever.

In an hour, Dr Dee and Ella re-enacted Nottingham’s (gory and disgusting) past from the time before the Romans came to Britain (they ignored Nottingham by the way) through the Dark Ages, past the Tudors, Stuarts, Georgians and Victorians with a little shot of Robin Hood for good measure. Not a bad feat, really, considering the play has a cast of two and the set consists solely of a wagon and some props.

Horrible Histories Nottingham is definitely a silly play, (did I mention it’s for kids?) but if you are looking for a way to tear your brats away from the TV, have an armpit smelling fetish or simply can’t wait until December to get your panto on, then this is the play for you.

Horrible Histories Nottingham runs on Thursday and Saturday afternoons until 13 September 2008

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