Think you know the history of Britain? Open air theatre promises a new perspective on our ancestors

The Pantaloons theatre company takes on the History of Britain in two-hour performance.

The Pantaloons theatre company takes on the History of Britain in two-hour performance.

First published in News Wimbledon Guardian: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter

Think British history is boring? Touring theatre company The Pantaloons is determined to convince you otherwise as they condense centuries of history into a two-hour comedy performance.

Featuring both well-known kings and lesser known characters from our country's past, the History of Britain promises to deliver a new and fun perspective of our ancestry.

Louisa Clarence-Smith speaks to producer and co-writer Mike Hayward, ahead of the show.

Louisa Clarence-Smith: What can audiences expect from the show?

Mark Hayward: The show is an attempt by four people to tell the entire history of Britain in under two hours. The actors are given the challenge in the opening scene but they have all forgotten their history books. So they do their best to tell the history of Britain with each chapter performed in a different style. The story of Henry VIII is told as a romcom, Lady Jane Grey's history is told in a puppet show and the Spanish Armada is a Gilbert and Sullivan parody.

LCS: You co-wrote the show. Where did the idea come from?

MH: We have been doing open air theatre for 10 years and it's got very popular. We started with Shakespeare and did Sherlock Holmes last year. This year we thought we are not going to do a literary interpretation like everyone else so we had an idea of telling stories that people know. Normally when people think about history shows like on TV they're told in a documentary style. So we tried to do something different.

LCS: Do you think it's possible to tell the history of Britain in two hours?

MH: It's literally impossible as we discovered. We've tried to choose the stories we want to tell so it's not just about a load of old monarchy. We wanted to include other things so, for example, we have got a story about a seventeenth century gentleman highwayman called Swift Nick who used to steal from the rich and give to the poor.

LCS: What's the funniest part of the show?

MH: My favourite bit is when we tell the story of the Victorian era as a parody of the Victorian music hall. We get Queen Victoria to compere as a stand-up in the music hall performance. It's very funny as she famously said, 'we are not amused'.

LCS: How long have you worked in theatre?

MH: I founded the company at the University of Kent 10 years ago and since then we have grown into a full-time theatre company. I wrote the show with Stephen Purcell, who is also a lecturer in Shakespeare at the University of Warwick.

LCS: You describe the show as 'post-modern folk theatre'. What's that?

MH: The folk theatre part is about stories that have worked their way into British folk tradition. You think of Shakespeare and you don't just think about the plays but about reinterpretations of them. The post-modern aspect is being self-reflective and breaking down the theatre wall. There's lots of audience participation. For the civil war we get the audience to divide into the Cavaliers and the Roundheads.

The Pantaloons' History of Britain; Morden Hall Park, Morden; Monday, August 25, 3pm; 0844 249 1895, nationaltrust.org.uk/morden-hall-park

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