Two brand new Horrible Histories at the New Theatre Oxford
"Audience are vastly different"
Sam Bennett spoke to Horrible Histories performer Ashley Bowden about the excitement and importance of the shows and the different audiences you experience when touring
Ashley Bowden will be in Oxford with Horrible Histories for his 30th birthday. Oxford is where he was born and where he grew up; so it’s a return home on a milestone birthday for something that he loves to do. “There’s the most amazing scenery – it’s absolutely breathtaking” Bowden said of the city as well as citing the New Theatre and Playhouse as “beacons of theatre”. It is at the New Theatre that Bowden will take to the stage as a variety of characters in Horrible Histories.
‘It’s history with the nasty bits left in!’ is the tagline used to describe the shows. “In schools they don’t really focus on the blood and the heads being cut off,” Ashley said, “and that’s what we pay attention to.”
This continues the work of the Horrible Histories books written by Terry Deary and illustrated by Martin Brown. “The books are fantastic because they’re so vivid.” Ashley said. “Martin Brown’s illustrations really give you a sense of the character and we try and take that one step further. We embody the character for you and show how silly some of the people are. But we also show that they are human and what they were going through when they made certain decisions. Not too seriously, though, we have funny wigs and stuff! We don’t just give them a lecture – we show them the fun bits and hopefully make them laugh. It’s a great way to get kids to learn things.”
Being part of something that educates is very fitting with Bowden’s career in acting. He’s led workshops at LAMDA and done work for the Oxford-based Stagecoach. Horrible Histories aims to teach their audiences through interacting with them, which sounds like it should work much better than just talking at them. It must be quite hard to tell if those you’re performing to are genuinely learning but at least you know when you’ve got their attention. “You can tell very quickly on stage if an audience is with you or if they’re not.” The performer informed me.
How do these audiences differ? “Audience are vastly different. In Hull we had a school audience in who shouted all the time – there wasn’t really a moment when they were quiet. But a couple of weeks ago we were in Cambridge and it was very different. They were quiet. They were all enjoying the show; we had lovely feedback and they joined in when we asked them to – it was a different kind of enjoyment really.”
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