Horrible Histories are back on stage in Sheffield next week, whisking the audience on a mad dash through 2,000 years of Barmy Britain.
Actor Gary Wilson said: “In Barmy Britain we start with the Romans and go all the way to World War One. It’s kind of a sketch show covering everything, a whistle-stop tour of British history.
“It’s a great laugh. There are four of us in the show so we have lots of costume changes and there’s lots of running around and being silly.”
His favourite roles in this show include Henry VIII. “He behaves like a naughty schoolboy, having lots of girlfriends and chopping people’s heads off.
“I have a puppet body with my head sticking out, like Dick and Dom in Da Bungalow. That’s good fun.
“I also play Dick Turpin in a spoof of TOWIE. A lot of people don’t know he was a butcher from Essex, not a dashing highwayman. We do lots of TV spoofs, like Guy Fawkes playing Who Wants to Blow Up Parliament?”
Gary, who has been doing Horrible Histories for six years, said the show appeals to a wide audience.
“The books have sold millions of copies worldwide. It’s a great way of teaching kids history, focusing on all the gory and nasty stuff that the teachers leave out a lot of the time, all of the poop, blood, guts and gore,” he said.
“There’s something for everyone. It’s not just a kids’ show. It works on different levels and there’s lots of jokes for the mums and dads that go over the kids’ heads.
“A lot of elements are like pantomime but there is a bit more to it because what you’re talking about is real. But like panto there’s plenty of singalongs and audience participation.”
There’s also a 3D section of the show, when the audience has to wear ‘boggle goggle’ glasses. The actors interact with a big screen and spears, skulls and cannon balls appear to fly out at the audience.
Gary said: “Very occasionally, we go a bit darker, as in the World War One scenes. We explain how it all started with a wrestling match which is all great fun and silly.
“All of a sudden the lights come down and there is a moment of stillness. We remember that the war lasted four years and 16 million people were killed. Poppies fly down into the audience.”
That’s a reminder that Horrible Histories looks at real life, he said.
“The facts are all there. Everything we say is true.It’s one of those shows that’s entertaining and happens to be educational, rather than an educational show that is fun”
“So many people come up after the shows and say ‘my child’s knowledge of history has improved so much’.
“I’ve learned so much myself since I started doing these shows,” said Gary. It wasn’t one of my favourite subjects at school. Dates for me just go straight out of my head.
“We also focus not just on kings and queens but real people as well that you don’t always hear about. For instance, during the Black Death a third of the country was wiped out. Those were everyday people.”
Horrible Histories – Barmy Britain is at the Lyceum next Tuesday to Saturday. Box office: at the Crucible, online at www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk or call 0114 249 6000.