dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
Can our super sleuths stop Sidney Claus and save Christmas?
Families can enjoy a festive show with a difference this year – thanks to Birmingham Stage Company's car park adaptation of Horrible Christmas.
Based on Terry Deary's book from the Horrible Histories series, the show will be performed on a portable stage and giant screens with audiences sitting in their own cars and sound streamed direct onto their dashboard. And the idea is proving to be so popular that most of the dates have already sold out.
In a year when so many people are unsure they will be able to celebrate at Christmas, the show is particularly apt as BSC actor/manager Neal Foster explains. "The story was originally written by Terry Deary, the genius who has written all of the Horrible Histories books, and it's just perfect for us to stage this year because it's about a boy who's trying to save Christmas. Sidney Claus is trying to destroy Christmas forever because he hates Christmas. He's got a magic time machine and keeps going back in time to the pivotal moments that created Christmas as we know it today to try and destroy it. This young boy, Watson Williams, teams up with Shirley Holmes and they keep following Sidney Claus back in time to stop him."
Horrible Christmas is a tried and tested production which BSC has been performing at different venues for the past seven years. Although the production is being marketed under the banner of Car Park Panto, it is definitely a Christmas show rather than a pantomime.
Neal says the show is successful because it blends fun and facts: "Aside from all the jokes and the fun you would expect from Horrible Histories, the show teaches you why Christmas is celebrated in the way it is today. One of the reasons why Horrible Histories is so successful is because they are full of things you didn't know. So, for example, you just take it for granted that you eat turkey and that you give to charity and get your family together and give presents at Christmas but all of this happens for a historical reason."
Birmingham Stage Company
BSC has premiered hugely successful productions including Roald Dahl classics The Witches and George's Marvellous Medicine, David Walliams' Gangsta Granny and Billionaire Boy and a host of Horrible Histories shows. Its Christmas shows have always been a special date in the diary, so Neal was keen to ensure festive fare this year despite all the difficulties.
He explains: "Christmas is often the first time children experience theatre and for many, it's the only time they go to a theatre, so it felt very important that there is a Christmas show available. The fact that we have sold out most of the shows means at least a couple of thousand people in each of the places we visit will be able to see a Christmas show. For a lot of people, it's part of what makes Christmas special. You have the turkey, the family dinner, and you see the Christmas show and, without that, for a lot of families Christmas won't be the same."
And Neal is confident the show is safe for visitors. "There's no risk to the cast or the public so there shouldn't be a need for this show to be cancelled," he says. "It's only one family that comes in a car: they leave their front door, get in the car and drive to the venue, watch the show and then go home, so there's no interaction with anyone else. There shouldn't be a reason why this isn't feasible even in the strictest of lockdowns, so we are doing it on the basis that we should be able to go ahead whatever the circumstances. But if we can't go ahead for any reason then everyone gets a refund and we move on to the next city."