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Terrible Thames

by on 13 April 2023

Old Father Farting

Terrible Thames

by Terry Deary and Neal Foster

Birmingham Stage Company at Tower Bridge Quay until 29th October   

Review by Vince Francis

“Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”  Thus quoth Dr. Samuel Johnson in 1777 and it has remained true ever since.

One of the opportunities London currently affords the Birmingham Stage Company’s production of Terrible Thames, part of the Horrible Histories series.   As a life-long London lover, your intrepid correspondent will always leap to the challenge of a new experience in the great city, and theatre on a riverboat, courtesy of Wood’s Silver Fleet, felt like one to land. 

The company lists a team of actors in their rather neat fold-out programme.  This performance was given by Roger Parkins and Harriet Munday, and, if the energy they produced was anything to go by, I think it would be fair to presume that they need to rotate the cast fairly regularly.

The performance itself is intended as a one-act, 45-minute tour-de-force of selected historical events, sites, and characters, aimed at children in the 7 – 11 age range.  There are lots of references to poo.  There is also lots of audience interaction and participation, with songs to join in with and movements – straightforward, move your arms about and wave at stuff movements, I mean – to keep everyone occupied and involved.  What comes across is a highly engaging “mash-up” of pantomime and comic guided tour, using the historically rich stretch of the Thames between Tower Bridge and the Houses of Parliament as both back-drop and prompt.  The script provides an impressive amount of well-researched information wrapped up in some really corny gags – a combination I always find appealing – and is delivered with gusto and considerable physicality by the cast of two.

The show is presented on the upper deck, which is in the open and, for this performance, all the adults were keeping a weather eye on the billowing cloud that that was barrelling towards us on a blustering westerly – I seem to have adopted the dialogue style – which, inevitably, showered on us and caused the crew to halt the performance in order to get everyone into the saloon below. 

Mr Parkins and Ms Munday did well to recover the audience attention and get the performance back on track and on schedule.  My guess is that this is a hazard that the company have recognised and have identified strategies to deal with, such as editing the script in performance to compensate.  If that’s true, there were probably a couple of little mini-sketches or other historical nuggets that were omitted, but that didn’t seem to create any great continuity issue. 

For parents with children in the target age range, this is a recommended addition to a day out in town.  It’s great fun and takes up just enough time.  It seemed to fit the bill for the children, too.  After all, what’s not to like about cruising around the Thames on a boat, looking at castles and battleships whilst being regaled with tales of historic farting?  The next production is The Terrible Tudors.  Can’t wait.

Vince Francis, April 2023

Images courtesy of Birmingham Stage Co and Wood’s Silver Fleet

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