Tag Archives: Benedict Martin

Horrible Histories: Barmy Britain Part Four


Apollo Theatre

Horrible Histories: Barmy Britain Part Four

Horrible Histories: Barmy Britain Part Four

Apollo Theatre

Reviewed – 6th August 2019



“the kids fell about laughing throughout — and even the adults had a good time”


Summer time, and the livin’ is easy. Unless, of course, you happen to be the parent of children with school holidays. What to do with the little angels? You could do worse than gather them up and take them to Horrible Histories, Part Four, now playing at the Apollo Theatre in London’s West End. Your kids will thank you for it, although their teachers may be less enthusiastic when their pupils recount the details from writer and director Neal Foster’s quirky take on British history.

The Birmingham Stage Company, which produced this and earlier Horrible History shows, has come up with an ingenious solution to the problem of Christmas pantomime: Summer pantomime. Summer panto, it turns out, is a show that has all the elements of panto, but is cut down to touring size. It is performed by only two actors and a suggestion of a set, including lots of costumes, sing-along songs, and kid friendly sound effects. In this particular production, the show is neatly placed on the stage of the musical currently playing in the evenings at the beautiful Apollo Theatre. This is a good situation for the cast of Horrible Histories. It is also a more comfortable solution for audiences, since many summer children’s shows have tended to play outdoors, where good acoustics (and seating) are in short supply.

Horrible Histories, Part Four is a fast-paced romp through Britain’s past, starting with the unfortunate Roman Saint Alban, our first British martyr, and ending with an introduction to the night soil men. These historical snippets are sandwiched between timely references to the present state of the British body politic aimed to draw in the parents, while their kids laugh at all the fart and poo jokes. Because that is the theme that ties together the aforesaid saint, and the early sanitation workers of Victorian England. Don’t be put off by this — the kids fell about laughing throughout — and even the adults had a good time returning to a primary school mindset.

The play — if you can call it that, because it is really a bunch of anecdotes loosely strung together from “facts” of British history — is performed by Benedict Martin and Pip Chamberlin. Their athletic talents are on full display as they manage a dizzying range of male and female characters, complete with myriad costume changes and messing about with an adaptable chest that turns into everything from a Viking longship to a steam locomotive railway carriage. They are ably assisted in their endeavours by sound designer Nick Sagar, and the musical talents of Matthew Scott, who knows how to write songs for audience participation. A special shout out also to set and costume designer Jacqueline Trousdale for the perfect design solution for this kind of show, and for making everything so versatile.

Horrible Histories, Part Four has all the elements of the traditional British pantomime — audience participation, lots of singing and dancing — even the obligatory cross dressing parts. However, the lack of a coherent plot, such as that in traditional Christmas pantos like Dick Whittington will make Horrible Histories a less satisfying show overall. Nevertheless, the Horrible Histories franchise is a good way to introduce primary school children to theatre, and hopefully, they’ll want to continue this thoroughly British tradition into adulthood.


Reviewed by Dominica Plummer

Photography by Mark Douet


Horrible Histories: Barmy Britain Part Four

Apollo Theatre until 31st August


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Operation Ouch! | ★★★★★ | December 2018


Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com


Review of The Tempest – 4 Stars


The Tempest

Greenwich Theatre

Reviewed – 29th September 2017





“Joshua Bhima and Robert Magasa delivered a truly memorable Ariel”



On my way to see the Tempest in the Greenwich Theatre I felt slightly nervous. This great play has been reinterpreted, reimagined, and rediscovered so many times, yet the well of new ideas inspired by Shakespeare’s classic seems bottomless. So it would be interesting to see what new spin international theatre company Bilimankhwe Arts, could come up with.

The production adapted and directed by Kate Stafford promised an engaging and ambitious spectacle. The cast included actors of African, Caribbean, and British heritage. This instantly brought to mind one of the core interpretations of the origins of the play, concerning the adventures of Sir George Somers and his peers, who got lost on their way to Jamestown, Virginia, and were cast instead on Bermuda.


The play was intriguing from the start, welcoming the audience with what at first appeared to be two native men engaged in a mysterious, sensual dance, accompanied by incredible (live!) Malawian music. It soon became apparent that these men were in fact two faces of Ariel, the spirit who serves the main protagonist, Prospero.

Splitting Ariel into two worked wonderfully. One of Shakespeare’s assets, which is universally loved but also difficult to perform, is his ability to create magical worlds full of wondrous creatures and dream-like scenarios. Ariel was played by two talented Malawian actors Joshua Bhima and Robert Magasa. I have no doubt that these men imparted most of the surreal atmosphere that accompanied us so successfully throughout the play. They always appeared on the simply set stage together, often dancing (choreography by Shyne Phiri) or singing hypnotically, sometimes just watching but never for one second abandoning their character. They delivered a truly memorable Ariel.


There was an interesting casting choice in Victoria Jeffrey as Trinculo. After the initial confusion, I found myself really enjoying what this brought; now we had a brilliantly portrayed drunken butler (Benedict Martin) with a drunken female jester who delivered subtly and hilariously changed lines. The monster himself, Caliban (Stanley Mambo), was powerfully characterised, often pitiful but then portraying a sadness that could bring tears. Young Miranda (Cassandra Hercules) and Ferdinand (Reice Weathers) were humorous, innocent, and full of life. If a little crude, they were very likeable.

Prospero, as the central figure was unfortunately disappointing. He seemed visibly uncomfortable standing on stage and watching the unfolding of the events. His wisdom, cunning, kindness, and charisma was somehow lost in the mostly angry or nonchalant portrayal by Christopher Brand. Understandably, he wasn’t meant to be depicted as a positive character, but the climax of the play was lost since Prospero didn’t seem to feel entirely himself as a magician.


It seemed that issues relating to colonialism, race, and relinquished freedom were the main inspiration for Kate Stafford. The atmosphere of the play was enriched and made more soulful because of such a diverse cast but I couldn’t help wondering if the director’s vision of the play, would not have come across stronger, if the foremost message of the work wasn’t lost in the meantime. We never met Alonso the King, Sebastian his brother, Antonio, Adrian or Gonzalo. The play mostly held together without their lines, although I missed the sharp and witty exchanges and the comfort of the unequivocally wise and kind Gonzalo. However, the last scene in which Prospero forgives all the wrongdoers became significantly weaker and less touching due to there being fewer of them to forgive for their scheming. 

Perhaps the quality of acting wasn’t completely consistent but the play offered a number of exciting ideas that could be developed and perfected in the future. The Malawian music, the terrifying, dreamlike, outstanding Ariel(s) and the complex character of Caliban will stay in my mind unchanged for a long time.


Reviewed by Aleksandra Myslek

Photography by Matt Martin




was at Greenwich Theatre

click below to see further tour dates



Click here to see a list of the latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com