The Horrible Histories crew delivers historical facts like no-one else. Their shows are littered with very cool moments for kids of all ages thirsting for that satisfyingly squelchy bit of gore or sticky bit of poo but, in amongst it all, are those brilliant and hitherto little known facts that make history pop.
Alison Fitzjohn has been with the Birmingham Stage Company from almost the beginning: The Vile Victorians, The Terrible Tudors, Horrible Science, The Ruthless Romans, The Awful Egyptians to name just a few of the various gems that forerunner Neal Foster has toured. Barmy Britain is the next instalment and has been running as a National Tour, Barmy Britain: Part One and Barmy Britain in the UK. The last has become the longest running children's show in West End history
Fitzjohn trained at Bretton Hall, University of Leeds and graduated with a BA (Hons) in Theatre Acting in 2002. 2015 will mark her 10th year of involvement with the Horrible Histories family. She acknowledges it's been a huge part of her career and she is so grateful. "There is no exciting story regarding how I became part of it all I'm afraid. There was an audition, I had to perform 2 audition speeches and have a chat with Actor/Manager Neal Foster and Director at the time JP Cherrington. The next morning I received an offer through my agent and the rest as they say is 'Horrible History' ha ha"
BSC tours nationally and internationally and has performed in New York, Hong Kong, Dubai, Syria, Abu Dhabi, Malta, Bahrain and, of course, here. I am excited to hear that Fitzjohn's favorite spot to hang her coat of many wacky characters of history is right on our doorstep. "I'm not just saying this but I would have to choose Australia, Sydney in particular with Hong Kong as a veryyyyy close second. Australia is magical to me and I am so excited to be able to tour a bit more of the area in January. The way of life in Australia is just so refreshing, lively and laid back…oh just writing this gets me excited about visiting again!"
Horrible Histories is based on Terry Deary’s fabulous books with his 80 books having sold worldwide. The TV series of the same name, but with no affiliation to the stage show, is just as popular having won awards generally going to more serious fare. As in the TV show, the actors in the stage show get to play multiple fun roles, all the while educating without the boring bits. Fitzjohn credits Barmy Britain as the ultimate Horrible Histories show. "Its a compilation of about 4/5 years hard work from a lot of people and it really shows. I get to play fantastic women in history such as Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth, Boudicca as well as lots of other quirky little and large characters, who wouldn't be happy with that! Think I have about 30 roles in total!"
"I think Boudicca is my favourite character to play. She's such a fierce feminist. She has a chance to rock out in Barmy Britain with her own song but I have also played her in the Ruthless Romans as well. I just think gosh, there was this woman standing up to all these intelligent, super Romans, rallying all these Celts to fight for what she believed. What an inspiration!"
"The first ever production of Horrible Histories (Terrible Tudors and Vile Victorians) will always hold a special place in my heart but my favourite tour has to be Barmy Britain that I am currently performing in. The tour has just been a blast. The 9/10 man team all get on so well, we have such a giggle and we're all so proud to be working on a show that is so well received. I really enjoy performing the words and the fast paced, sketch show feel really keeps the audience on their toes! We only have a week left before I start in the 2 man version in the Westend for Christmas…I think there will be tears!"
Fitzjohn's enthusiasm is palpable as she responds to my question about the best part of touring with the troupe:
"Ooooo the very best part?…now that is quite hard as I love so much about touring with these shows. I guess I would have to say the BEST part has to be when you know the audience have had such an amazing time by the looks on their faces at the end of the show. When you see multiple generations clapping, smiling and laughing knowing they've left the theatre feeling totally entertained and satisfied, its just such a special feeling for me."
Having seen Horrible Histories Awful Egyptians last year – and loved it – I was so impressed by the overall comedic timing and spot on delivery but was also blown away by the spontaneity of bits that I thought may have been improvised. Fitzjohn explains: "Well actually the shows are very scripted as the comic rhythm relies on it! So we must do a good job in looking like it is improvised! The technique of the comedy has really developed in these shows over the years I have been working on them and its been a great learning curve for me trying to adapt and keep up with all the changes!"
Horrible Histories Barmy Britain starts its Australian leg of the tour in January so "if you are looking for a real family event that is entertaining for all ages then come and join us at Horrible Histories Barmy Britain, enthuses Fitzjohn. " A jam packed, lightening speed romp through the history of Britain in 3d!"