The History Boys
The People's Theatre
30th Oct 2013
Directed by Kevin Gibson, this production of The History Boys is a great piece of theatre. The stage is simply set with the typical classroom - chairs, desks and a piano, with the significant quote projected onto the backdrop.
Set in a Sheffield Grammar School it follows the preparations for the Oxbridge entrance exam of 8 of the brightest boys. They have already passed their A levels and are now being groomed for successful entry into the echelons of higher education.The bombastic, ambitious headmaster (Keith Henderson) wants glory for his school, he wants to see his school high up on the league tables and he is prepared to use these boys to achieve it. They will pass the exam, and he sets out to ensure that they do by recruiting a bright young oxford graduate, Irwin (Sean Burnside) offering him the lure of a permanent post if he succeeds where the current staff have always failed.
The new teacher has new ideas about teaching. He has a Machiavellian approach to knowledge - it is to be used for advancement, and the truth of the knowledge is less important than the potential success it could garner. This puts him directly at odds with the resident teacher Mr Hector, who sees education as a means of broadening the boys outlook, expanding their experience. Exams and the curriculum for him, are an unnecessary evil, and attempt to streamline knowledge into acceptable packages and, pigeonhole the boys. His teaching methods are unorthodox, creative, fun. The boys like him, but they are not sure what they are meant to be learning from him.
The new teacher brings conflict - in the staffroom, and in the classroom. And of course not everything is as it seems - there are emotional and moral conflicts as well as professional and social ones.
I think the play has been brilliantly cast - Tony Childs perfectly fits the role of the eccentric Hector. Craig Fairburn, as the self assured Dakin, boasting of his sexual conquests, towers over Sean Burnside as he confronts the teacher who has caused him to question his own sexuality. I loved this scene where the roles were reversed and the pupil became more knowing than the teacher. Joe McLauglin plays Posner, hopelessly in love with Dakin, and desperately trying to please everyone, with the most convincing lovelorn expression!
And throughout it all, bringing the, albeit somewhat jaded and cynical, voice of reason is Mrs Lintott, the only female, played by Moira Valentine.
The play is darkly humorous and poignant as you'd expect from Alan Bennett. It will make you uncomfortable, and it will make you laugh. I'd say that was a success.
It plays until Sat 2nd November - and I'd judging by last night's full house, I'd suggest you book your seat now!