Newest Review: ... in French and even if you don't know the language, it is easy to follow and very funny. The History Boys draws you quickly into the story... more
Back to School!
The History Boys
Member Name: karenuk
The History Boys
Advantages: Great cast, beautifully staged, clever story
Disadvantages: Not always touring
Last Friday, I went to the Curve Theatre in Leicester with my boyfriend and my eldest daughter to see The History Boys, written by Alan Bennett. I had previously seen the film, which stars Richard Griffiths and several young male actors who would go on to become big names - James Corden, Russell Tovey and Dominic Cooper.
The stage version of The History Boys has been touring since 2010 and finishes in Guildford this week, though hopefully it will tour again soon. It is a wonderful story and has so many great characters and a real depth of talent in the cast. This tour stars Philip Franks as Hector and his was the only name I recognised.
This production is set in Sheffield in the 1980s and scene changes are punctuated by bursts of 80s pop such as the Pet Shop Boys and A-Ha. The set is basic, but really well utilised. The classroom set mainly consists of desks and chairs with a piano in the background, as there are some musical numbers too, all set within the school day. The stage rotates slowly in certain scenes, meaning the audience can watch the action from differing angles, which is also effective but subtle.
The action takes place in the school where eight boys - Akthar, Crowther, Dakin, Lockwood, Posner, Rudge, Scripps and Timms - are working towards their exams, hoping to get into Oxford or Cambridge University. They are taught by the inspirational Hector, whose methods are rather unorthodox, but through him, the boys learn to love language and broaden their knowledge.
The headmaster however feels the boys need a new influence, so he hires a new teacher Irwin to bring in a more structured and disciplined approach to their education. The play follows the staff and the pupils through their exams and afterwards, culminating in a final scene set in the present day where the audience learn of the fates of each character.
There are some beautifully written characters in the play - as you'd expect from Alan Bennett. Hector (played here by Richard Franks) is excellent, just the sort of teacher who stood out in all our childhoods by being able to make lessons interesting (though the motorbike rides home are unusual!). While some of the eight boys have very little to do, four of them stood out for me - Dakin (George Banks) is the pretty one and he hits just the right level of arrogance to still manage to hold the audience's affection; Scripps (Harry Waller) is the religious one whose asides are very caustic; Timms (Christopher Keegan) is the class joker and has some of the funniest lines; Posner (Rob Delaney) is probably the deepest character amongst the boys being gay and Jewish and he has a stunning singing voice too.
The chemistry between the eight young actors works beautifully. Although they are all older than they are playing (Keegan was born in 1985, for example), you soon forget this as they act like boys in their late teens. There is a lot of scenery moving and running around which must have been choreographed, as it is beautifully timed and again adds to the realism.
There is only one woman in the cast and that is Penelope Beaumont who plays the school teacher Mrs Lintott. She has some great lines too, especially her incisive observations on sexism in the teaching profession. My daughter felt Thomas Wheatley's portrayal of the headmaster was a weak link and certainly his character wasn't as memorable as the other teachers, but my boyfriend and I felt he was very typical of the slightly aloof headmaster of a few decades ago.
The dialogue is really well done with some very clever use of language. This is a play you do need to concentrate on and Hector can be particularly verbose, just as many old school teachers tend to be! One of the cleverest scenes is performed entirely in French and even if you don't know the language, it is easy to follow and very funny.
The History Boys draws you quickly into the story and the characters, so you soon begin to feel you know them and care what happens to them. It is by turns very funny, moving, sad, poignant, endearing and sweet. It is suitable for teenagers upwards, as there is quite a bit of swearing and adult sexual themes. The play runs about one hour 45 minutes with an interval. My boyfriend and daughter found the first half was harder to get into, but enjoyed the second half more. I found both halves of the play were just as good, but as I had already seen the film version and knew the story quite well, this may have helped me get into it quicker.
Overall, The History Boys is an excellent play with a really talented cast. The production levels are very high, the music is great and it is well worth seeing. I will definitely try to see it again in the future, as I feel it can easily stand up to repeated viewings.
Summary: A great play