REVIEW: Horrible Histories - The Vile Victorians. Playhouse Whitley Bay.

Redhill, UK. 01.02.2013. Birmingham Stage Company presents Horrible Histories - Vile Victorians. Picture shows: Ashley Bowden, Christopher Gunter, Amanda Wright and Tessa Vale. Photo credit: Jane Hobson.
Redhill, UK. 01.02.2013. Birmingham Stage Company presents Horrible Histories - Vile Victorians. Picture shows: Ashley Bowden, Christopher Gunter, Amanda Wright and Tessa Vale. Photo credit: Jane Hobson.
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MURDERED babies, child slave labour and industrial disasters costing lives aplenty … sounds like the news agenda for an edition of Panorama rather than an evening of entertainment for the kids.

But, as ever, it’s the way you tell ‘em that counts.

And the Horrible Histories stage show tells stories of death, destruction and disaster with an infectious zeal.

It is, as the exuberant cast at the Playhouse Whitley Bay kept telling us, history with the nasty bits left in.

Coming under the Terry Deary literary cosh were the Vile Victorians, and they have all the ingredients for a night of gruesome fun.

Transporting Deary’s books from page to stage may well have given the producers a headache, but with such a wealth of morbid material there was no shortage of dark humour.

And when you can throw in buckets of poo at every turn, then the kids were always going love it. The Victorians, as we discovered, were up their ears in excrement, from the Night Soil Men shovelling, erm, poop dumped in back lanes to cheeky street urchins smearing posh people’s door knobs with pap. Queen Victoria’s bowel movements were even blamed for the death of her husband Albert!

The stories were acted out by Dr Dee and his travelling troupe of actors who were joined on stage by a wannabe actor called Miss Tree (Mystery, geddit?) though she was not all that she seemed.

In truth, the plot was incidental to the stories being told, which amused and repulsed in equal measure.

To keep the interest going, there was plenty of audience participation, nods to popular culture (a Britain’s Got Talent spoof on the deadly occupations of Victorian children worked particularly well) and a second half which featured a Boggle-Vision 3D animation as a stage backdrop.

What boggled most, however, was that all the incredible stories unfolding on stage were not imagined tales but the very scary truth of days gone by.

Fact is often stranger than fiction. With Terry Deary, that fact is stranger and nastier than most … and the kids love it.