x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Abu Dhabi stage production showcases the humourous side of history

Britain's history is revealed using comedy and costume changes in the production Horrible Histories: Barmy Britain.

The actors Alison Fitzjohn as Queenie and Neal Foster as Rex perfom onstage. Jane Hobson
The actors Alison Fitzjohn as Queenie and Neal Foster as Rex perfom onstage. Jane Hobson

Set in Loathsome London, a new theatre production will take audiences on an unconventional journey into the gruesome history of Britain, during its Middle East tour.

Featuring strange and shocking stories, Horrible Histories: Barmy Britain will be presented by the Birmingham Stage Company in Abu Dhabi tomorrow at Al Jaheli Theatre at The Officer's Club and at Ductac at Mall of the Emirates on Thursday.

The gory details

The show is based on the successful children's book series, which is sold in more than 40 countries, by the bestselling author Terry Deary. Audiences will see events from the time of the Romans, Vikings, Tudors, Georgians, Victorians and the First World War.

The one man, one woman performance, supported by the Dubai-based Art for All, also plays with the different sides of famous figures not usually found in history books. These figures include Henry VIII, General Haig of the First World War and Guy Fawkes, who is famous for his attempt to blow up parliament.

Neal Foster, the co-writer, director and star of Horrible Histories: Barmy Britain, says it is now the longest-running children's theatre show in London, following a six-month run this year. The company has visited the UAE at least four times before, with productions including Horrible Histories: The Egyptians earlier this year and Horrible Histories: The Frightful First World War and Woeful Second World War in 2009.

"It's a great romp through British history filled with exciting stuff - a great way to tell a horrible story," says Foster.

For those unfamiliar with the history of Britain, Foster says this is never an issue, because the story is self-contained and aims to tell audiences what they do not know.

When in Rome

The show starts off with a song about "how barmy Britain was", with the female character trying to convince herself that Britain was in fact anything but. However, the story takes a different turn when it dives into the Roman era, tackling the tiniest of details such as the food they brought with them.

"It's naughty and silly. Adults may think it's not the way to teach kids about history, but they love the stories. Some of our best audiences have been in Dubai, too," says Foster. "Sometimes, people think the material is just jokes but everything is true and factual."

After tackling the Romans, the company also looks at what happens to Henry VIII's second wife Anne Boleyn and the events leading up to the moment before Guy Fawkes was to be executed. "When someone got caught for treason, they would receive the punishment, hanged, drawn and quartered, which was the worst death that could be given and continued for hundreds of years," says Foster.

Public displays

The show consists of up to nine sketches and both actors play 15 characters each, which requires a bit of skill in terms of costume changes.

"It's high energy and the fact that we are able to do so much is enjoyable for the audience. The moment we walk on stage there is not a single second we walk off," he says. "Everything happens on the stage, even the costume changes, which have to be done within just 20 seconds. That was a big challenge."

The show also requires a little audience participation and at one point, they are even told to "hang" themselves.

"It's not quite your regular history lesson. We hope audiences laugh a lot and I'm sure conversations about it will continue," says Foster.

Future shows the company is working on include one about the British naval commander Lord Nelson, who fought against the French during the Napoleonic Wars.

Tickets cost Dh100-Dh120 and doors open at 4.30pm at Ductac. In Abu Dhabi, tickets for the 9.30am and 11.30am shows cost Dh65-Dh90. Visit www.timeoutdubai.com to book.