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The Vile Victorians

Terry Deary
Birmingham Stage Company
Sunderland Empire and touring
(2008)

Production photo: the Charge of the Light Brigade

All of Terry Deary's Horrible Histories aim to educate children about history by focusing on all the things that most interest kids: blood, guts, pee, poo and all things disgusting, and they succeed admirably in doing so. The Birmingham Stage Company's productions work in much the same way: they will use anything which will grab the kids' attention, from a talking "hole in the elephant's bottom" music hall song, through smearing poo on doorknobs, to sawing off legs. And they'll use any format that suits, from the aforementioned music hall to panto to slapstick to using Bogglevision 3D to throw rats into the audience.

And to judge by the reaction of the audience, both Deary and BSC have taken exactly the right route. There were squeals of delight (and of delighted terror) and enthusiastic participation in the shouting and cheering demanded of them.

Essentially The Vile Victorians is a series of sketches which each take an aspect of Victorian life, including the working of Victorian toilets (of course!), pickpockets and beggars, railways and other engineering works (and, in particular, disasters), hospitals and war (the Charge of the Light Brigade), and they even manage to work in a brief history of panto, a few jibes at the popular beatification of Victoria herself, the invention of the cardigan and balaclava, a biography of Florence Nightingale (very much in Reduced Shakespeare Company fashion) and the Great Exhibition. The pace is so fast that it is only afterwards that once can see - and be amazed at - just how much they cover.

It's all done with four actors (two men and two women) who, although they have characters which run through the piece, also play a vast variety of parts. This kind of playing demands high energy and these four (no programmes, so no names: sorry!) have it in spades.

The kids loved it, and so did their parents. And so, it has to be said, did this reviewer!

John Johnson reviewed this production in Northampton

Reviewer: Peter Lathan