‘We’ve been in the West End, we’ve been on Broadway, we’ve been to the Sydney Opera House! But nothing compares to the car park of Powderham Castle!’
It’s been a very strange, dark and challenging year for live performance, with theatres up and down the country still closed with no idea when they will open again. There was a point where I thought that I wouldn’t get to see another piece of live theatre in the strangeness and difficulty that is 2020, but thanks to Car Park Party in partnership with Horrible Histories on Stage, I finally got to experience live theatre and feel that thrill again. Sure, it was different with cars filling a car park instead of people filling auditorium seats, but that excitement was still there and for an all to brief hour, things started to feel a lot more normal.
Horrible Histories probably taught me a lot more about history than any of my classes at school, with lessons woven into comedy and music sticking in my head a lot more than reading from text books. Following an incredibly popular television series, and a film, the characters of horrible histories are now stage stars normally performing in large theatres all over the country and enjoying many a popular tour, but at that moment, that’s not possible. But that didn’t stop them. Armed with a large truck that transforms into a stage, a huge screen and an open space, Horrible Histories: Barmy Britain has brought live theatre back kicking and screaming into car parks much to the delight of the audience, lined up in their cars.
In a rather grey and cloudy car park of Exeter’s Powderham Castle, hundreds of cars full of families with children of all ages lined up to enjoy some theatre, some live entertainment that we have been cruelly prevented from enjoying for the last few very long months. With just two cast members, Neal Foster and Morgan Phillpot, we were taken on a song and dance filled journey through British History. From Boudicca, to Henry VII to Queen Victoria and Burke and Hare, hundreds of years of history were crammed into an hour that simply flew past.
With the use of props and costumes, Foster and Philpott were able to bring many a historical figure to life and tell many a story with an apparent ease. Working at a rapid speed, they were able to teach many lessons that you may not have gotten from what a history textbook can teach you. Were Burke and Hare really body snatchers? Did Henry VIII really write Greensleeves? And what caused the downfall of the famous highway man Dick Turpin? With plenty of music and comedy, all of the families in attendance were able to enjoy an hour of laughter and fun, all whilst learning about the history of Britain. I am sure that many a child left the performance knowing a lot more about history then they did before, and they learnt it whilst having fun.
The strange setting of a show in a car park allows for plenty of additional comedy and ad-libbing, with car horns blaring and headlights shining. Plenty of jokes about car makes, social distancing and flashing throughout, with many a reference from King Richard about car parks. After all, we all know where his remains where famously found. Even with each family/social bubble in their own cars, you could still hear the laughter and the cheers. With horns replacing applause, it all got rather loud at some points but that seemed to make it all the more enjoyable for the children in attendance.
In terms of the show as a whole, I have to congratulate the team behind Horrible Histories on stage, and the team at Car Park Party for putting something together that works so well and is able to continue to bring live theatre to the masses in these trying times. Upon arriving at the grounds of Powderham Castle, we were directed down to our parking space quickly and easily. With a large screen positioned over the stage, you are guaranteed to be able to see the action from wherever you are in the line up. To be able to hear everything that was happening on stage, all we had to do was tune in our car radios to a certain station. All easy and pain free. Cones were set out to main social distancing at the food stand and toilet facilities set up at the side of the car park. It was all very well organised and put everyone at ease.
Horrible Histories: Barmy Britain is doing an incredible job of getting out there, getting live theatre back into our lives and bringing live entertainment to the masses just when we really need it. Brilliant in its simplicity, its use of music and comedy brings a smile to everyone’s faces young or old. This really is a show that is completely suitable for the entire family, and it was wonderful to see so many families enjoying a show together. The partnership between Horrible Histories on stage and Car Park Party is a match made in heaven