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Theatre Review: Horrible Histories Frightful First World War and Woeful Second World War, New Wimbledon Theatre

By This is Essex  |  Posted: March 27, 2009

<P>HORRIBLE HISTORIES</P><P>History can be exciting: the Horrible Histories crew take on the First and Second World Wars</P>

HORRIBLE HISTORIES

History can be exciting: the Horrible Histories crew take on the First and Second World Wars

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History can be awfully dull, just ask any passing kid! But when you concentrate on the ghastly gory bits it takes on a whole new and riveting dimension.

Terry Deary's Horrible Histories series are very popular with children and the Birmingham Stage Company has had considerable success with the stage adaptation of subjects such as the Vile Victorians and Awful Egyptians.

It's one thing telling schoolchildren about the warts and all horrors of history when it all happened centuries ago. But recent history is much closer to home and harder to deal with.

With these two world war shows they do a creditable job, the highlight of both undoubtedly being the Bogglevision which, via 3-D glasses, enables the audiences to enjoy some stunning special effects.

The concept is exploited fully for the Frightful First World War. This show is a bit slow to get going and there was some silly panto-type stuff in the first half.

But in the second half Angelica finds herself alongside 19-year-old Private Paul Turner in the trenches of the Western Front where she endures some of the deprivations which our troops had to suffer.

We learn how they killed the rats which invaded the dugouts and what with them, lice and various missiles flying at us we in the audience feel under bombardment too.

I enjoyed the ghost story stuff, and so did the kids judging by their audible reactions.

There is a deep poignancy to the ending of this instalment, with its cascade of poppies showering gently over us, and hopefully its message will resonate with young audiences for years to come.

The Woeful Second World War didn't work so well. Hitler and the Holocaust are hardly ideal subject matter for primary schools and with this in mind, they play it safe. It's a tale about two youngsters from Coventry who are evacuated to Wales to escape the worst of the air raids.

Sally ends up on a farm with a nasty lady farmer who keeps her a virtual prisoner so that her friend Alf, billeted with the local vicar, hatches a Colditz-like plan to get her out.

For reasons I can understand though don't necessarily agree with, the piece is sanitised. When Coventry is bombed to pieces we see the city under aerial attack and then in flames. Although Sally's mother is feared dead in the ruins she appears safe and well to give the show a happy - but not the most dramatic or thought-provoking - ending.

The hard-working cast of four are superb, playing dozens of characters between them, with special congratulations to Laura Dalgleish for her armoury of wonderfully colourful women (and men!)

Certainly history was never this memorable at school.

Diana Eccleston

4 stars

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