Children love history when it's nasty, says Horrible Histories actor

Colourful personalities from Britain's history are brought to life in The Best Of Barmy Britain.
Colourful personalities from Britain's history are brought to life in The Best Of Barmy Britain.PHOTO: ABA PRODUCTIONS

Two Horrible Histories shows for children give a cheeky and unfiltered spin on past events

British actor Ashley Bowden wishes his history lessons back in school had included the gruesome and macabre details that he now has to act out in the Horrible Histories stage productions.

"When I was a student, history classes were quite boring as they left out the nasty bits, but those were the parts we loved," the 30- year-old recalls with a laugh during a telephone interview from London.

In the Horrible Histories TV series and stage shows, based on the best-selling books by Terry Deary, history is given a cheeky and unfiltered spin as the unpleasant parts are accentuated, instead of glossed over, to hilarious effect. The edutainment series is targeted at kids.

The audience will learn grisly details such as King Henry VIII of England's order to behead two of his six wives and the process of Egyptian mummification - with all the foul bits included.

In the high-energy pantomimes, there are plenty of opportunities for the audience to participate too.

  • BOOK IT/ HORRIBLE HISTORIES: THE AWFUL EGYPTIANS

  • WHERE: KC Arts Centre - Home of SRT, 20 Merbau Road

    WHEN: Jan 25, 5pm; Jan 28, 3 and 5pm

    ADMISSION: $42, $52 and $62 from Sistic (go to www.sistic.com.sg or call 6348-5555); 10 per cent off tickets to two KidsFest shows or 15 per cent off tickets to three shows

    INFO: Recommended for children aged five and above. Go to www.kidsfest.com.sg

Bowden will be performing in two Horrible Histories shows - The Best Of Barmy Britain and The Awful Egyptians - that will be staged here later this month as part of children's theatre festival KidsFest.

In its sixth edition, the festival is organised by theatre production company ABA Productions and runs from next Wednesday to Feb 12.

In the 60-minute shows presented by the Birmingham Stage Company, Bowden will ham it up in three roles: the ruthless King Henry VIII, the mysterious Mummy and a powerful Pharoah.

The Awful Egyptians is a returning show from 2014, which Bowden also starred in.

The Best Of Barmy Britain, which culls the best bits from previous Barmy Britain productions, is making its debut here. In this latest show, the colourful personalities who made their mark in Britain's history are brought to life, including a rapping Queen Victoria. Kids learn the order of King Henry VIII's six wives in a sing-along session.

  • HORRIBLE HISTORIES: THE BEST OF BARMY BRITAIN

  • WHERE: KC Arts Centre - Home of SRT, 20 Merbau Road

    WHEN: Jan 27, 7.15pm; Jan 29, 10am and noon

    ADMISSION: $42, $52 and $62 from Sistic (go to www.sistic.com.sg or call 6348-5555)

    INFO: Recommended for children aged five and above. Go to www.kidsfest.com.sg

Bowden, who has been a part of the Horrible Histories troupe since 2012, says he is used to taking on more than one role in a single production.

"I try to make each character as distinct as possible so once I'm in character, you won't mistake him for another," he says.

Improvising on stage is another skill that comes with being a Horrible Histories actor, he adds.

"Since we have direct contact with the audience and can ask them questions, we adjust according to each group. If they are more reactive to the lines, we try and see if we can push it a little further," he says.

Emphasising that all the information in the shows is based on facts, Bowden believes it is a more fun and indirect way for kids to learn about history.

"We inject huge amounts of fun into the show such that the kids are learning without even realising it," he says.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 06, 2017, with the headline 'Grisly details add to the fun'. Print Edition | Subscribe