(reviewed at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford on 23 October)
The voice of the king of the gods, Zeus himself, is a fitting introduction to this latest addition to the Birmingham Stage Company’s repertoire of Horrible Histories. Appropriately enough, he’s Terry Deary, actor-author of the original series of books.
In Groovy Greeks Zeus is confronted by a modern family. There’s Mum (Laura Dalgleish), bright-as-a-button daughter Alice (Hannah Boyce) who is just as inquisitive as her Lewis Carroll namesake, somewhat know-all Dad (Charlie Buckland) and stroppy son Rob (Ashley Bowden).
They are invited (threatened? challenged?) by Zeus to enter the world of the highly competitive ancient Greeks. Troy and its ten-year siege is the appropriate beginning. Rob confuses Homer the poet with the Simpsons’ patriarch which allows for some clever cartoon-derived headgear designed, as are the projections by Jacqueline Trousdale.
The harsh, military-focussed city-state of Sparta, the Olympic Games and the rise of Athens are the next to tax our quartet’s survival skills. Slavery was a fact of everyday life in the ancient world; there’s a timely statistical reminder that it’s still prevalent today.
Horrible Histories on stage wouldn’t live up to their name without Bogglevision, as devised by Whizzbang 3D Production. The Minotaur lurks in a distorted labyrinth to claim his tribute of young human flesh. His vanquishing by Theseus is attended by some fright-inducing spiders as well as other monsters.
Both the historical encounters with the Persian empire – Leonides’ doomed but heroic defence of the Thermopylae Pass and the vital sea battle at Salamis are alive with hurled spears and rocks (I challenge you not to duck!), the foam and hiss of oar-beaten waves and the crunch of armoured prows caving in wooden triremes.
Tere’s a hilarious Britain’s Got Talentt-style contests for the audience’s favour with Aphrodite’s sexy show-girl routine easily out-voting Poseidon’s trident-waving rock star or Athena’s pop singer attempt. Our time travellers return to the present-day having learned a lot about the past and the way in which it continues to inform the present.
You see, history really can be great fun. It just takes imagination.
Groovy Greeks runs in repertoire with Incredible Invaders at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford until 24 Octover and also at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge between 26 and 31 October.