Just one thing after another

The History Boys

The History Boys

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry


THERE IS always one teacher who sticks in your mind and in The History Boys Alan Bennett has created Hector (Richard Hope), a charismatic educator at an unnamed Sheffield grammar school circa 1980.

The eight boys are ostensibly studying history while he tackles ‘General Studies’ encompassing Gracie Fields, Brief Encounter, long-dead poets and, with Scripps (Alex Hope) at the piano, a variety of great songs from Posner (Steven Roberts).

His proclivities are not entirely wholesome and encompass ‘fiddling’ with one of the boys on his motorbike journeys home. The headmaster’s (Christopher Ettridge) blind eye mostly operates though his chief concern seems to be that it happens at 50 mile per hour!

The boys are highly gifted, post A-level Oxbridge history hopefuls with a warmth and wit, and a knowing sexual awareness way beyond their years.

Dakin (Kedar Williams-Stirling) is chief of the tribe and Hector, Posner, Fiona the headmaster’s secretary (Melody Brown - horribly underused) and finally Irvin (Mark Field) fall in love with him. Irvin as new supply teacher, looking uncannily like a young Alan Bennett, has been brought in from ‘Oxford’ to support ‘Totty’ (Susan Twist) - Mrs Lintott - in her role as history specialist.

Irvin’s arrival at the school and the vast changes in relationships are the chief concern of the play which was voted ‘favourite’ play by English Touring Theatre last year.

The play, directed by Kate Saxon, is a wonder in itself: there are such layers within it. You can dig where you like and still mine gems. Education is the biggest theme, with the dichotomy between teaching for exams and education for life the target.

There’s the theme of relationships between teacher and pupil that’s beyond regulation, and there’s the peer relationships that made me wish heartily I’d attended a school like this: the warmth, trust and honesty as they mature is lovely to watch.

The boys know themselves and their peers and forgive eccentricities as they do Hector’s; Posner deliberates that he is small, Jewish and from Sheffield and stands no chance. That’s not quite how he puts it and the rich Anglo-Saxon expressions, including from the Headmaster and Totty give a raw edge.

The quotation from this play that is in itself rich in quotation is from Rudge (David Young), a character who succeeds despite expectations, who says in his ‘mock’ Oxbridge interview that ‘History is just one f***ing thing after another’. Great play, great cast, great set. Go see. To 07-02-15

Jane Howard



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