The Theatre Royal plays host to The History Boys, a revival of the much loved play and subsequently, film, by Alan Bennett. The play has itself has created its own history in the six years since it first opened at the National Theatre, in May 2004.
The play concerns the trials of a group of boys at a Sheffield grammar school in the 1980’s and their undertaking of the prestigious Oxbridge exams, over seen by their English Language teacher, Hector (Gerald Murphy), who has a penchant for giving the boy’s wisdom, knowledge and the occasional ‘lift’ home on his motorbike. Hector is seen as out of touch by the headmaster of the school and the board of governors, yes, you can always trust Bennett to hold a mirror up to society and to poke it with a very sharp stick, or hit it a way that Hector would do to his pupils, always very irreverent and tongue in cheek. To rectify Hector’s failings in getting the boys through the exams, the headmaster brings a young history teacher, Irwin (Ben Lambert), to shake things up in the school. Their differing styles of teaching come into play, and with it the popularity contest.
Each of the boys has his own take on the world and on the subject’s taught, from the Rugby loving Rudge (Peter McGovern), who doesn’t seem to get it, the self assured Dakin (Kyle Redmond –Jones), who is dating the schools secretary. To Posner (James Byng), who is in love with Dakin and hopes the feeling ‘never ends’, a wonderfully judged performance with excellent singing skills.
The cast of twelve move between each scene with ease and unity, in what is a technically demanding play, hitting their marks with timing and precision that is flawless, they work as an ensemble and yet each one of the cast is unique.
Much of the comedy is brought out in the re - enactments in the drama lessons that Hector gets the boy’s involved in, taking as their inspiration, from the melodramatic tear- jerker’s of the forties, “Now Voyager”, and “Brief Encounter”. As well as the singing of torch songs from the same era, even if some of the words have been ‘doctored’ for comedic effect.
The play has two distinct acts, and much of the comedy in the first act, bordering on farce, is in sharp contrast to the second act when much of what has happened to the boys and teachers in the years following those happy carefree days is both moving and poignant.
This production is directed by Christopher Luscombe, and produced by the Theatre Royal Bath and West Yorkshire Playhouse, is a joy from beginning to end.