Alan Bennett’s The History Boys was a West End and National hit, kick-starting the careers of various young actors with its well-drawn characters and fun, feel-good themes. This Sell a Door Theatre production then seemingly has a lot to live up to, but thankfully this company injects fresh ideas and vigour into the play, leaving the audience with big smiles and full hearts.
A class of 8 boys at a local school in Sheffield, then, all with a penchant for and skill in history and literature, are all gunning for places at Oxbridge. To this end, the Headmaster of the school, rattily played by Marcus Taylor, employs a recent Oxford graduate, Irwin, to ‘groom’ the boys ready for the Oxbridge exam. Irwin, played as both geeky and passionate about history by David Hutchinson, struggles to help the boys use the knowledge that has been instilled into them by their slap-dash, pedophiliac teacher Hector – wonderfully captured by Richard Recruit – who in turn resists the use of knowledge, literature and poetry as merely material for academic debate. Given the different teaching styles, desires and demands that all the teachers at this establishment place on the boys, and the impending Oxbridge exams, the pressure is truly on for them to reach their potential.
Directed astutely by Phillip Rowntree, the smaller, simpler, stiller moments in the play are just as, if not more, poignant than the fun, upbeat ensemble scenes in the classroom
Whilst the plot of this play ostensibly lies in the boys’ quest to get into Oxbridge, it is the intricate relationships that develop and unfold between each character, and their backstories, that provide the real meat of the production. Directed astutely by Phillip Rowntree, the smaller, simpler, stiller moments in the play are just as, if not more, poignant than the fun, upbeat ensemble scenes in the classroom.
Yet this production does truly feel like an ensemble. Characters wait in the sidelines waiting for their turn to speak. Some slight caricatures do exist, but they do not distract from the real situations that each character experiences. The set and lighting is also worth a note, given its realism and detail, and hats off to casting director Jill Regan for placing the actors so well in their respective parts.
In all, a wholly entertaining rendition of The History Boys is given by Sell a Door theatre, and as a result it is anticipated that this company is, and indeed some of the actors, are destined for great things in future.
**** 4 stars
Runs until 24th June