Andrew McClelland’s Somewhat Accurate History Of The Fall Of The Roman Empire
Always a highlight of the festival – yet playing a bafflingly small room – McClelland has a child’s mind stuck in the body of a well-fed middle-aged Edwardian man. Puppyishly eager to please, he takes infectious delight in showing off what he’s learnt… and this year, having previously presented a Somewhat Inaccurate History Of Pirates, he turns his hand to one of history’s greatest empires.
It’s a civilisation which provides plenty of fodder for the comic observer, with the bacchanalian orgies, gladiatorial combats, the peccadilloes of patricians and countless civic, engineering and military advancements to draw upon. As any regular viewers of Stephen Fry’s QI – newly arrived in Australia courtesy of the ABC – will know, such trivia can easily be as entertaining as it is fascinating. McClelland takes the same knowing, jovial approach to the historical facts, with equally enjoyable results. They really ought to have him on the show.
You will learn as you laugh, but only as a by-product of the shenanigans. In fact, the show can feel like primary-school playtime as our light-hearted host persuades the pliant audience to portray barbarian hordes, re-enacts the assassination of Julius Caesar or gives us a Top Ten rundown of the wackiest emperor deaths.
But although it’s silly, the wealth of information, if not the depth (Pop-Up Pompeii heads the bibliography), means it never feels patronising. The gags emerge naturally from the topic, and even if they are occasionally obvious, they are sold with such upbeat amiability, you’re happy to be jollied along.
McClelland’s palpable passion for the subject cannot be resisted and sets a feverish pace, bombarding us with facts, flitting restlessly from one brief segment to the next, and always beaming with delight as he does so. If he’s not having the most fabulous time of his life on stage, he’s an impressive faker – but either way you want to indulge his enthusiasm. This is more fun than a toga party, any day.