Birmingham Stage Company at the Civic
Rewriting history to amuse children is by no means new – 1066 And All That was an earlier attempt which also transferred well to the stage.
Terry Deary's books are enormously popular with pre-teens, and as a former actor and director, he is well placed to adapt them. Two volumes are touring this year – Terrible Tudors and Vile Victorians. Like the books, the stage plays are finely judged to appeal to the target audience: somewhere between PlaySchool and Blackadder, with plenty of pure panto thrown in.
The characters were constant. Dr Dee - not clear whether this was any relation to Queen Elizabeth's Magician and former Chelmsford schoolboy John Dee – two naughty sidekicks Drab and Dross, and the Inspector from OFSTAPO, for whom we reserved some of the loudest hisses and boos.
Excitement, explosions and executions, disease and disaster, were the stuff of almost all the sketches – Battle of Bosworth, Charge of the Light Brigade, Baby Farmers and Night Soil Men, all reduced to colourful, almost cheerful cartoons.
The lively, physical acting was supported by music, my favourite the pastiche Music Hall ditty The Hole in the Elephant's Bottom, and CGI backdrops, which in the second half sent 3D effects zooming around the auditorium – The Tay Bridge disaster and bloody Mary. Yuck.
The moral was summed up in the last song – I'd Rather be Alive Today.