Horrible Histories: Terrible Tudors & Awful Egyptians – King’s Theatre

Based on the books by Terry Deary

Writers: Terry Deary & Neal Foster

Director: Neal Foster

For 25 years the books of Horrible Histories have been delighting, disgusting and in some cases frightening the young (and old) of the nation. A tremendously valuable tool, they captured an imaginative way to make history and culture accessible for people who found little interest. Written by original author Terry Deary with Neal Foster, Horrible Histories the Terrible Tudors and Awful Egyptians are two shows which may share a cast, but each is crammed with enough differences to merit its own show.

Time flows in a peculiar way once we venture into the past, in two forty-five-minute acts we somehow go from the coronation of cruel hunchback Richard III right up to the death of Elizabeth I. We witness the building of the Pyramids and cover an extensive period of British and world history quicker (and better) than most curriculums. Yet, it doesn’t feel long enough. We want, neigh we beg more. We want more squelching moments of disgust, period cures to common ailments, more mummy (w)rapping and assuredly more interaction between the three performers.

Of the two, the vicious dramatics of Terrible Tudors may have more blood, gore and a braver audience, but it is those Awful Egyptians who have the more rounded piece. The overall narrative has a more fluid structure, with the smoother transitions between scenes. We are not solely witnessing the stories but instead trapped inside a Museum of Ancient Egyptian antiquities where the imposing Rameses the Great has been awakened.

A sumptuous blend of the ridiculous with the technological exists on stage. Some of the props are directly out of the drama school closet, the dolls of Mary Tudor and Elizabeth I are adorable, yet still creepy, speaking of which as is the puppet of Henry VIII only son, Edward. They’re used with love, their less grand manner heightening the gags. Buckle up though, this second act is about to pull out the bells and whistles…

A selling point for both Horrible Histories is its Boggle vision – 3D projections which serve as the backdrop for the second half. In cinema, this is a gimmick used once every thirty years. The fifties tried it, the eighties re-invented it and the later 2000s vastly improved upon it. The design work of Jackie Trousdale is tremendous. The cold stones of the Tower of London, rich flames and crimson squelches of blood plastering the screen setting the tone sublimely. Likewise, the vivid brightness of Ancient Egypt is only as appealing as the atmospheric haunts of the afterlife…

Just when you thought we couldn’t be livelier – these are in fact musicals. Yep, you read that right. Nothing works better for memorising history than mind-numbing rhymes which are far better than they have any right to be. Matthew Scott’s music composition captures Horrible Histories television show tunes many will be familiar with, Izaak Cainer and Lisa Allen belting out accomplished vocals.

In keeping with any successful children’s show, they cross the threshold into adult territory. Doing so not only in humour but through serious tone changing, shifting from the farcically fun into the dramatic but gruesome features of history. The dedication undertook by cast member Lisa Allen in her closing moments as Elizabeth I are stirring, echoing back to the sinister turn earlier in the production as the famous Green Sleeves degrades into the fate of Anne Boleyn.

Simon Nook, half caricature, half comedian and half King of England brings his absolute A-game to both productions, firstly as a larger than life Henry the VIII but then as an even more menacingly hilarious Ramesses the Great. He knows just when to kickstart the audience, which button needs pushing and how to dial up the volume from the party poopers in the crowd. His voices encourage fits of pure giggles in a way the original books first accomplished. His performance to ‘make Egypt great again’ may slip over a few heads but has knifepoint commentary laced throughout.

Nook, Allen and Cainer capture the essence of what Deary brought to the publishing world decades ago. To not only educate but to entertain, gross-out and ignite a passion for history. Both Terrible Tudors and Awful Egyptians are hilarious, engaging and beneficial for any inspiring history buff while reigniting a passion for us adults.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/horrible-histories-terrible-tudors-and-awful-egyptians-kings-theatre-edinburgh/

Photo Credit – Mark Douet

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – King’s Theatre

Based on the Novel by Louis de Bernières

Adapted by Rona Munro

Directed by Melly Still

Something remarkable occurs on stage this evening. Amidst the inconceivable atrocity of war, the explosions and pain, Rona Munro achieves a paradox in a way only she could. To find beauty in war. A statement which feels wrong, but it’s precisely what Captain Corelli’s Mandolin reaches. It has the angst; harrowing anguish of war yet has a deep ornate construction.

Based on the 1994 novel by Louis De Bernières, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is a wartime drama set in Italian and German-occupied Greece, on the island of Cephalonia. We open with a young soldier by the name of Carlos, speaking to the titular Captain of a story. His story. Though really, this narrative goes beyond the simplistic and into the strikingly poetic in its language and storytelling. As we explore the island, a young woman, Pelagia finds desire. Only for us to come to realise that where passion ebbs, love may be found in a sworn enemy.

It may be a story of the various ways in which love may manifest; parental, passionate, harmonious or the love of comrade. At its heart though, both narratively and on stage is Pelagia, played by Madison Clare. Melly Still’s direction, in tandem with excellent writing from Munro help, lift a character who could so easily have been a throwaway ‘strong woman’ motif. What these three do, with performer Clare at Pelagia’s core is craft a determined, human character who is fleshed out, fun and engaging.

The points of beauty are found in three aspects of this evening’s production; It’s poetic language, it’s cast but also in Mayou Trikerioti’s set design. An enveloping sheet metal warped and battered like any scrap of war hangs precariously above. Its blank template becomes a visual feast with Malcolm Rippeth’s lighting. Where communication is not verbal, the shifting colours of fire, ocean and blood speak volumes. 

As always, direct comparisons between a five-hundred-page novel and a two-hour production are inherently fruitless. Instead, Munro’s adaption captures the essence of the book in spirit, losing only a little of its flesh. There’s always something wholly investing, yet terrifying about viewing history from the view of another. Our experiences in Britain are no less tormenting, but so different to an island off of Greece where these were ‘bad – circumstances’.

In trimming the gristle, a slice of taste has been lost. For the most part, a sublime balance is achievable in the back and forth interactions of the village folk, a tremendous amount at the hands of Clare and Joseph Long. There are moments, however, where we cross into (dare we say it) romantic comedy territory. It has the late eighties, early nineties vibe where we briefly confuse our characters for Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. In pursuit of comedy, interactions sit oddly beside the intricate choreography and chilling vocals of Eve Polycarpou.

This too means pacing for the second Act stretches slightly, the climaxes of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin are numerous. With each travesty or revelation, they try to outdo the other. It works on occasion, ripping each gasp from the audience with glee, but towards the end, there isn’t much breath left. The sumptuous use of music already taking most of our breathes away.

Alex Mugnaioni’s Captain Corelli is the embodiment of quixotic intention, impossible not to warm to. It makes the slow-burn of the romance between him and Clare all the more believable. Their chemistry is superb, we invest heavily in not only the romance but the growing friendship and initial animosity between the pair. Interactions between the entire cast are emotive, with Long’s Dr Iannis a connection to the audience, regaling us with Grecian myths to draw parallels with social history.

A unique production which finds itself basking in its adoration for music, love and community – strengthening their importance against the harrows of war. As an adaptation, it serves the source material well only succumbing to a couple tropes in the process. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is a hauntingly beautiful piece of theatre, moving its audience.  

Tickets available until June 22nd: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/captaincorelli

Production Touring: http://www.captaincorellismandolin.com/

Image rights: Marc Brenner

Avenue Q – King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Image Contribution: Matt Martin

Music and Lyrics: Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx

Director: Cressida Carre

We’re back on Avenue Q, running for fifteen years the street is still offering up an evening of filth, wickedness and yet holds a mirror up to its audience more than ever. Just when you thought bright colours and puppets were for kids, Avenue Q proves that nothing is as it seems.

Just what can you do with a BA in English? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself for the past three years… For Princeton, a fresh-faced and bushy-tailed graduate, he wanders into Avenue Q in search of his purpose. It’s a peculiar street with friendly faces, some furry and other childhood stars. Meeting Kate Monster, Princeton finds his goals in life share a track with love. Unable to balance the two, a pair of bad idea bears drive him down the wrong path.

An issue with ‘edgy’ humour is that with age It tends to dull. Namely with references to childhood stars of the 80s such as Gary Coleman, who worked as a gag in the 2000s but a current audience has a weaker connection with the actor. In steps Nicholas McLean who portrays Gary in a more energetic performance than past touring productions. It offers rejuvenation to an otherwise tired character. Who does seem to suffer is Brain, a jobless aspiring comedian. Oliver Stanley is perfectly adequate, Brian is already the weakest written part, but he just lacks an oomph required.

There is no doubt that Avenue Q’s crucial selling points are still as impressive as they were 16 years ago. First, it’s slapped up and intoxicated version of Sesame Street puppets. They wouldn’t look out of place on a Saturday morning, through Rick Lyon’s design, they all have an individual personality. In particular the Bad Idea Bears. Those fuzzy inner voices who harmlessly tell us to have one more drink or to treat ourselves. Megan Armstrong and Tom Steedon do a sinfully wonderous job of breathing life to these imaginary tempters.

Besides its puppets, what gives Avenue Q longevity is its soundtrack by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx. Covering power ballads, catchy tunes and perverted showstoppers. The touring cast does an admirable job delivering the numbers, with Steedon and McLean bringing their A-game as Trekkie and Gary Coleman. The Internet is For Porn and Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist still bringing grins to the crowd’s eyes years later. It is Cecily Redman as the downhearted Kate Monster with the tragically underrated There’s a Fine Fine Linewho moves the audience from laughter to genuine heartache.

With emotions clear, there is an issue with projection. Redman herself being able to belt out Peggy Lee inspired notes from Lucy the Slut but tails off on the bolder notes from Kate Monster. Her voices for the two are enjoyable, particularly for Lucy bringing in a husky sultry vibe. Lawrence Smith has just as grand a time with Princeton and Rod. When on stage with Redman, the two are giving it their all with You Can Be As Loud As The Hell You Want.

Does it still cut as deep? Not really. Is it still deep enough to leave a mark? Definitely. Avenue Q was once the filthiest show in the West End and Broadway, now it’s spreading that muck across the nation. It’s raunchy, still hilarious and contains a few surprise emotional moments with some poignant commentary of racism, purpose and reality.

Review Originally Published for Reviews Hub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/avenue-q-kings-theatre-edinburgh-2/

Tickets available from Capital Theatres: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/avenueq