The History Boys
Paul Johnson | 12 Sep 2015 17:57pm
The History Boys is a stunning play, one of Bennett’s best. It’s full of issues and deliciously cutting and perceptive comments about education (“Examinations are the enemy of education – but then so is education” “The chief enemy of culture in any school is always the headmaster”) and there is an unusually large number of meaty roles. It also has the potential to be very funny – and not just because the head master uses the word “fuck” when he shouldn’t. It ought therefore to be the perfect play for a talented non-professional company. In fact it’s surprisingly difficult to bring off largely, I think because the pacing needs to be spot on to make it work and that’s one of the hardest things to get right. In this production, which has a great many good things going for it, the pace often flags, especially in the second half when the mood changes.
The plot is well known. Many people remember the National Theatre’s original production which launched the careers of Dominic Cooper, James Corden and Samuel Barnett among others – and there has been a film. A class of nine post A level scholarship boys are being prepared for the Oxbridge entrance exams in a 1970s Sheffield grammar school. Taught by charismatic Hector (Chris Coates) and contrasting pragmatic Irwin (Brendan Roberts) with several gay subplots, eventually they succeed. Then there’s an unforeseen dramatic ending,
Coates gives a reasonable account of his huge role as Hector, berating, drumming in attitudes, sharing culture and, well, hectoring. Roberts is convincing as Irwin who regards Hector’s style of learning as “gobbets” which the boys can stud their essays with, and is en route to becoming a TV journalist of the sort Bennett evidently loathes.
Nick Young’s performance as the vulnerable, wistful Posner who loves singing and Dakin – the character Bennett is on record as saying he identifies with most closely –is assured. Fred Cox finds the right level of insolence and feigned self confidence for Dakin and there is some enjoyable work from Dave Rogers as the ever reasonable, questioning piano playing Scripps.
What a pity though that the French lesson – with role play in a brothel – is so weak. It is potentially one of the funniest scenes in modern drama. Here the timing is all wrong and much of the humour lost. If you don’t hear the head master’s knock at the door and the line “an autre client?” then it falls flat. And the second act needed to move faster although the mock interview scene is a gem. I found Adam Turner’s headmaster, although funny, too much of an implausible caricature too.
- : admin
- : 11/09/2015