Review: Andrew McClelland’s Somewhat Accurate History Of The Fall Of The Roman Empire

Istanbul, not Constantinople: Andrew McClelland bones up on geography.

Istanbul, not Constantinople: Andrew McClelland bones up on geography.

Andrew McClelland’s Somewhat Accurate History Of The Fall Of The Roman Empire
Starring: Andrew McClelland
Appearing at: Melbourne Town Hall, for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival


Andrew McClelland has pretty much cornered the market in explaining a lot about a certain topic, to a certain extent. After last year’s detour into time ninjitsu, Professor McClelland is back on track to tell us how the Roman Empire collapsed.

At first I was dubious that he could pull it off with just an immensely likeable stage presence (applicable adjectives include ‘jovial’, ‘avuncular’ and ‘cherubic’) and a box of random props. McClelland also casts his net ambitiously wide: beginning his survey with the rise of Julius Caesar in 44 BC and ending with the sack of Rome in 410 AD.

But the secret to McClelland’s success was audience interaction. We were pressed into service as centurions, Christians and barbarians, encouraged to nominate our favourite Roman emperors, to answer a “true or false” quiz about Roman customs and to act out the assassination of Julius Caesar. This kind of stuff could have gone horribly wrong with an apathetic or a smart-arse audience, but somehow it was uproariously funny and we left the show in an incredibly good mood.

Maybe this is because McClelland’s enthusiasm for his subject was contagious. He was also skilled at reading and reacting to the crowd: he dealt with a history boffin in my audience by declaring him his ‘slave’ and then fact-checking the show with him periodically.

The show also works because so many of the things we think we know about Rome actually come to us from Shakespeare, Hollywood and other pop-cultural sources. Thus, McClelland gleefully corrects these fallacies at every turn; his humour is about pop-cultural Rome as much as the historical empire itself. The Somewhat Accurate History is packed with witty observations delivered at breakneck speed; a sweating McClelland abandoned his trademark tweed jacket, loosened his tie and rolled up his sleeves as his show progressed.

For much of the time it feels as if he’s talking off the cuff, possessed by the sheer delight of sharing his knowledge – or even racing to cram the material in. But the show ran perfectly to time, and it never felt as though McClelland dwelled too long on any one topic or glossed over another. It’s a carefully structured lecture with an enthusiastic, informal delivery. Lots of fun from a performer who definitely owns his niche.

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  1. Tim Chuma says:

    Even if I don’t see any other shows I try to go see Andrew McClelland’s show during the festival. His pirates show is still one of my favourite shows six years after I saw it.

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