Thursday, 18 June 2015

The History Boys, Grand Opera House York (On behalf of The Public Reviews)

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews and the link can be accessed here.

Accessed from The Public Reviews

Alan Bennett’s multi award winning The History Boys is currently playing to theatres nationwide.  It is about a class of eight boys who have sat their A’ Levels and are staying an extra term with an aim of getting into Oxford University.  Set in the 1980s, and era recognised by the music; the play explores and debates the education system from traditional and contemporary point of views underlying its strengths and weaknesses.
Bennett certainly has an authorial presence in the play; his renowned playwright skills shine through with his humour, metaphoric language, double meanings, indirectness and innuendoes, which negatively and positively question the education system concerned, linking the narrative to the playwright’s education experience.  The questions are enhanced with universal sociological issues which are relevant to both the boys and teachers concerned.
General studies and history lessons are mainly taught by two teachers; Hector and Irwin, whose teaching approaches could not be any different and clashes. Hector represents the teacher Bennett has in mind; Richard Hope ensures that the boys and the audience are given a “real education” and that “all knowledge is precious” which is beyond the requirements of passing the Oxbridge entrance examinations.   Hector’s philosophical and liberal life lessons are popular with the boys, however not so with the headmaster (Christopher Ettridge) who is keen to apply an inflexible curriculum and anxious for the school to meet its performance targets.  This result in hiring Irwin who is expected to “resolve” in educating the boys in history, rather than relying solely on Hector’s so called life knowledge and questionable habits. Irwin, his appearance looking quintessentially like Bennett, may be a history expert, but Mark Field fulfils the role in being overwhelmed and is rather lost with what the boys’ quests are for, more than what is required for passing the exams.  In a nutshell he is receiving an education as much as them! In the mix there is the straight forward and factual Mrs Lintott which Susan Twist portrays.
The lively energetic boys give the audience a diverse insight to their personalities and summarises their experiences through evaluating the education received.  Personal tributes are given to Hector by the boys who acknowledge and value his contribution towards their lifelong learning.  Posner in particular, gives a testimony of his experiences and how education has enlightened and revolved his personal life at present and in the future.  Steven Roberts, making his professional stage debut, articulately expresses his inner thoughts and feelings covering a range of issues that are relevant today.
The History Boys is a thought provoking play fits in Libby Watson’s classroom design with its shelves of books and a motorbike hung up to the ceiling, which are the story’s cues.  The History Boys certainly offers how education is generally perceived for which the system is challenged particularly with its “origins and consequences” and examines how subjective knowledge really is.   Importance is emphasised indirectly how education should be qualitative as well as quantitative for one and all, not just for the privileged few.  This is an excellent, poetic and humourous portrayal of education provision and attitudes surrounding it, which is well delivered by a talented cast.

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