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Neal Foster

16th March 2023

Interview: Amy Bell

Horrible Histories proudly presents its wicked river tour of the Terrible Thames. Climb aboard and hear the horrible history of the most famous river in the world! Tremble in terror at the Tower! Sizzle at the Savoy! Give Cleopatra the needle! Be washed away at Westminster! Lose yourself in Lambeth! Get gobsmacked by the Globe! Hold onto your head at London Bridge and escape from Execution Dock!

Dive with Horrible Histories into the stories of King Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Julius Caesar, Queen Boudicca, Jack the Ripper and Captain Kidd, in this history of the Thames with the nasty bits left in.

We got to chat to the man behind it all, Neal Foster the Director. Foster talks to us about what we can expect about the show, Horrible Histories and why you should see this show on the River Thames.

Thanks so much for talking to ReVamp, you created the Birmingham Stage company when you were only 19 years old, how do you think growing up, influenced the creation of this?

I officially announced I was going to be an actor when I was eight years old by telling my English teacher Mrs Beard. That’s how my Mum found out! I had been performing for my parents in my dressing gown since I was three and my Mum had taken me to see a lot of theatre shows. My Dad was a working-class lad who gone on to create his own very successful engineering business, so it was probably the combination of my obsession with theatre and my Dad’s success in business that lead me to think the best way for me to have a life in theatre was to create my own theatre company. 

Why do you enjoy creating Children’s theatre? 

Children’s theatre plays to my strengths, which is a strong imagination, an interest in comedy and a love of being silly. Along the way I have always been interested in history, so combining comedy and history for children has been the perfect experience. As a child I was hugely influenced by Monty Python and once told Michael Palin that a lot of our success with Horrible Histories was down to the Pythons - so he asked for royalties!

You are now presenting ‘Terrible Thames’, from the 1st of April to the 29th of October 2023, what made you want to do a boat tour with the BSC?

The Woods family have been running boats on the Thames for over a hundred years and they asked if we would like to team up with them to create a unique tour of the Thames. I thought it would be the perfect way of exploring London and it’s proved to be a huge hit with the public.

How have you rehearsed for this and what excites you about this boat tour?

The really tricky thing we discovered is that the river changes speed all the time, so within a couple of hours you can be going twice as fast or twice as slowly along the river. This means the actors have to constantly change the show to fit the speed they’re travelling and this takes a lot of practise. The beauty of the tour is that you have the amazing backdrop of London against which we tell unbelievably weird and wonderful stories about the river and the city.

Why do you believe that children love Horrible Histories so much?

Terry Deary, who co-wrote Terrible Thames, is the genius creator of the Horrible Histories book series which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Terry realised that a great way to get children interested in history was to concentrate on the gruesome, gory, bizarre and baffling things that humans have done to each other throughout history and children can’t get enough of it.

How does it make you feel knowing your hard work is being appreciated? 

There’s nothing more rewarding than the reaction of an audience in a theatre show. It’s the reason we produce everything we do. Whether it’s to make people laugh, drop their jaws in wonder or get moved by the stories, bringing together a group of strangers to collectively experience something wonderful is a fantastic feeling.

When thinking about the production, how do you try to engage the children as much as possible? 

The great thing about Horrible Histories is that it’s performed directly to the audience, so they are engaged from start to finish. They also get a chance to join in the songs in the show, so they all have a fabulous time.

For people wanting to buy tickets for ‘Terrible Thames’, why do you think they should? 

If you enjoy being on a boat, seeing the city from a unique perspective and then hearing about the amazing things that have happened here, then Terrible Thames is for you.

Grab your tickets for Terrible Thames here.

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