Review: The History Boys, Crucible Theatre, ✭✭✭

On completing their A-Levels, The History Boys begin the rigorous Oxbridge application process. Aided by their teachers, representing a triptych of educational approaches, the boys find themselves on the precipice of adulthood and all it’s attendant concerns; the chief of which, is getting in…

Alan Bennett’s ambitious play covers an expansive array of issues, questioning the functionality of history, the futility of literature and educational philosophy, in addition to tackling themes of student-teacher relationships, feminism, homosexuality, race and religion. But, far from nurturing and encouraging our digestion of these complex themes, this cool chaotic production steamrolls over them.

The simplest, stillest moments are the most engaging and effecting.

The detailed design by Chloe Lamford, transforms the space from class room to staff room during punchy choreographed transitions brimming with electric teenage aggression. However, these transitions jar with the sentiment of the scenes that follow – the energised 80’s vibe a stark contrast to Bennett’s verbose dialogue. Concept-driven director Michael Longhurst depicts the world of the school and its day-to-day running by filling the large stage with a continuous stream of subtextual action. But this extraneous action (Fiona pottering in the office or the boys limbering for P.E) distracts from the plot unraveling hotly in the foreground and limits the use of our own imaginations. The simplest, stillest moments are the most engaging and effecting.

The play is brought to life when the exuberant, raucous boys parody the classic films for General Studies teacher, Hector. They also command attention with their stirring, tight vocals. Whilst the dynamic is very much a collaborative one, Oliver Coopersmith warrants particular merit for his heartbreaking portrayal of troubled Posner, as does Will Featherstone who injects energy into the charged classroom antics and glides over the dense, poetic narration. Rudge, played with a rye familiarity by the hilarious Ross Anderson, reminds us that the system is never as meritocratic as it intends to be, unashamedly attaining his place at college through a false family connection and a talent for ‘rugger.’ The older actors garner less attention; Matthew Kelly’s Hector is sensitive and likeable but his characterisation lacks a certain eccentricity, consequently making it difficult to understand how he has captured the unwavering commitment, trust and love of his students.

The Crucible theatre have delivered an aesthetically pleasing, funny and enjoyable production, but with so much visual stimulation, Bennett’s complex web is one you might be left tied up in.

***(3 stars)
Runs until 8th June
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