Culture / Stage / 13 February, 2012

Horrible Histories at the Hackney Empire: don’t spare the blood and gore

With a stage version of his Horrible Histories soon to open at the Hackney Empire, Terry Deary explains why blood curdling accounts of historical events and newspapers can be good for kids

Terrible: Tudors Henry and Anne

Terrible: Tudors Henry and Anne. Photograph: Ian Tilton

For decades Terry Deary has been delighting children with his gut-wrenching renditions of historical periods and events. Now his creations are set to burst onto stage at the Hackney Empire with cutting edge 3D special effects to illustrate the horrors of two of Deary’s most cherished tales: Vile Victorians and Terrible Tudors.

The Horrible Histories are perhaps best known as books, though they have since been incarnated into TV series, CDs, and for several years, theatrical productions.

In moving his lively dramas to the stage, Deary is in fact coming back to the origins of the project. The author started out as an actor and playwright, and the Horrible Histories have their origins in plays he wrote on historical themes.

Though it is through his 241 books that he rose to fame, he says that theatre retains distinct attractions: “A visual memory is often stronger than a literary memory. You look at something on stage and you never forget it.”

Several decades on from his thespian beginnings, Deary’s theatrical creations have gone high-tech. “Children are very comfortable with computer graphics these days,” he says.

“In the first act you see a computer-generated background. In the second act it becomes three-dimensional. When you see the Tame Bridge disaster, you see it crumble, and when the train comes off the end of the bridge, it ends up in your lap.”

There is a logic behind this gruesome and sometimes graphic approach to figuring the past: “History is rather boring the way it is taught in schools,” Deary says.

“What I write about are human experiences. This includes stories which are quite horrific. But people committed these dreadful acts or suffered. They were either the victims of the executors, as it were.”

And he takes inspiration from newsprint: “Newspapers don’t public lists of dates like history books do,” he says.

“Newspapers publish stories about real human beings. And that’s what I think I do in the Horrible Histories. That is education, not learning facts and the dry stuff. I think newspapers are far more relevant for children than school textbooks.”

Horrible Histories: Vile Victorians and Terrible Tudors
21-25 March 2012
Hackney Empire
291 Mare Street E8 1EJ
Tel: 020 8985 2424

/ 13 February, 2012


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