The History Boys received its world premiere on 18 May 2004 (previews from 8 May) at the NT Lyttelton where, after extensions, it continued until 26 April 2005. Set in the 1980s, the play questions the purpose and means of education. In a school where the headmaster cares only about exam results, a bunch of excitable sixth form boys go about their pursuit of the important things: sex, sport and a university place. Meanwhile, there are staff rivalries between an unconventional English teacher, an ambitious young supply teacher and a history teacher who thinks the headmaster is an idiot.
In addition to Richard Griffiths, who plays the unconventional history teacher Hector, the original NT cast features Frances de La Tour and, as their pupils, Dominic Cooper, Samuel Barnett, Jamie Parker, Sacha Dhawan, Samuel Anderson, Andrew Knott, Russell Tovey and James Corden. The original production is directed by NT artistic director Nicholas Hytner, who is also directing the £2 million film. Hytner had previous stage-to-screen crossover success with Bennett’s The Madness of George III.
Amongst The History Boys’ shedload of awards to date are: Best Play at the Evening Standard and Critics’ Circle Awards, Best New Play at the Olivier Awards and Best New Comedy at the Whatsonstage.com Theatregoers’ Choice Awards. In addition, Griffiths won a hat trick of Best Actor prizes at the Evening Standard, Critics’ Circle and Oliviers; Barnett won both the Best London Newcomer and Best Supporting Actor in the Whatsonstage.com Awards (See News, 15 Feb 2005); and Hytner won the Olivier for Best Director.
For the UK tour, Desmond Barrit (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, HMS Pinafore, Accidental Death of an Anarchist) will lead the cast as Hector. The company will also include Bruce Alexander, James Cartwright, Philip Correia, Marc Elliott, Diane Fletcher, James King, Tobias Menzies, Thomas Morrison, Matt Smith, Kenny Thompson, Steven Webb and Samuel Yates. The tour is directed by Simon Cox, based on Hytner’s original production.
Following six performances, from 23 to 28 September 2005, at the NT Lyttelton, the tour of The History Boys will visit Newcastle, Plymouth, Sheffield, Norwich, Salford, Woking, Glasgow and Milton Keynes, where it concludes on 26 November.
- by Terri Paddock