Two plays recently seen on the London stage – Steptoe and Son and, following its Tony Award-winning success on Broadway, Alan Bennett’s The History Boys (See News, 12 Jun 2006) - will launch new UK regional tours next month.

The History Boys - directed by NT artistic director Nicholas Hytner and starring Richard Griffiths as unconventional history teacher Hector in a boys’ sixth-form college - 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. Last September, the play, redirected by Simon Cox with a new cast led by Desmond Barrit as Hector, returned for a week before embarking on an eight-week tour, after which it returned again to the NT last December.

This year, the play’s first cast reunited to tour internationally, culminating with the play’s Broadway premiere this past April. A screen version, also directed by Hytner and featuring the full original company, will be released this autumn.

Set in the 1980s, The History Boys 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.

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 Theatregoers’ Choice Awards. In addition, Griffiths won the Best Actor prizes at the Evening Standard, Critics’ Circle and Oliviers; and Hytner won the Olivier for Best Director. On Broadway this summer, The History Boys won a total of six Tony Awards including Best Play, Best Actor in a Play for Griffiths and Best Direction of a Play for Hytner.

In the new UK tour, Anton Rodgers will play Hector in a cast that also includes: Isla Blair (as Mrs Lintott), Orlando Wells (Irwin), William Chubb (headmaster), Ben Barnes (Dakin), Steven Webb (Posner), Philip Correia (Rudge), Thomas Morrison (Scripps), Marc Elliott (Akthar), David Poynor (Lockwood), Owain Arthur (Timms) and Akemnji Ndifornyen (Crowther).

The new tour of The History Boys runs from 31 August to 16 September 2006 at Birmingham Rep before visiting Nottingham, Coventry, Bradford, Hull, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Belfast, Llandudno, Cardiff and Manchester, where it concludes on 25 November 2006.

The new tour of Steptoe and Son opens on 21 August 2006 at the Theatre Royal Plymouth then continues to Manchester, Glasgow, Nottingham, Bromley, Dartford, Richmond, Billingham and Brighton, where it finishes on 28 October 2006. The stage production of the popular TV comedy series premiered at York’s Theatre Royal in autumn 2005 and transferred for two months to the West End’s Comedy Theatre this past February (See News, 13 Jan 2006).

The sitcom was originally delivered to the BBC as a one-off for part of a season of ten unrelated sketches, but ended up being made into a complete series starring Harry H Corbett and Wilfrid Brambell. The show ran for 12 years from 1961 to 1974 and remains a landmark comedy for the way it dealt with an underclass previously seen in television only in realistic dramas. The American TV version, Sanford and Son, was also a success, running from 1972 to 1977. Corbett and Brambell last reprised their roles as Harold and Albert in a cabaret show that toured Australia in 1977.

Steptoe and Son in Murder at Oil Drum Lane, to give the stage play its full title, is written by the series’ original creator Ray Galton and fellow comedy writer John Antrobus. In it, the wily Albert Steptoe and his long-suffering son Harold become involved in a tale of intrigue and suspense, as a lone figure arrives at their dilapidated house in Oil Drum Lane – now in the hands of the National Trust - with a murderous secret. Jake Nightingale and Harry Dickman play Harold and Albert.

- by Terri Paddock