Birmingham Stage Company & Derby Theatre
Opera House, Blackpool
December 13-29; 1hr 50min
What starts out as a light-hearted history class about festive traditions rapidly becomes an object lesson in how to stage a proper pantomime in this latest production from Terry Deary's Horrible toyshop – one perhaps that other theatre companies might do well to mark and digest
Horrible Histories Horrible Christmas also proves you can educate a little at the same time as you entertain a lot – and pretty well satisfy audiences of all ages.
Birmingham Stage Company, with the aid of Derby Theatre, is an old hand at touring the Double H productions around the country: next year sees several more of their award-nominated shows heading this way. This time they put down roots for a three-week Christmas residency in the resort, often performing two or even three times a day.
Using the usual time-travelling narrative they wrap a sparkling two-hour entertainment around the seasonal celebration contributions made by Charles Dickens, Oliver Cromwell, King Charles II, Henry VIII, St Nicholas and – lest anyone forgets – the Nativity.
Like history itself. the gags often repeat themselves; some straight out of Christmas crackers; there’s community singing and other audience interaction - oh yes there is - as well as contemporary references to everything from Brexit to Baby Shark, Trump to Prince Andrew; obligatory "local" jokes about Coral Island, St Annes or Fleetwood; knockabout comedy bordering on actual violence, and maybe just a little too much allusion to bodily functions, even by juvenile standards.
In short everything you would come to expect from a panto, but without as many of the double entendres that have begun to weigh heavily elsewhere.
It’s all delivered with style and professionalism by an eight-strong cast, easily able to overcome the particular demands of such a big stage. The synchronisation of the show’s many sound effects is spot on, even if the between-acts lighting is occasionally over-dazzling.
A flash, bang, wallop of a production that runs merrily along.