HAVING seen the film of the History Boys, starring the indomitable Richard Griffiths, I was intrigued to see how it would translate to the stage at Burton’s Brewhouse. As soon as the lights went down, I knew I would be pleasantly surprised by the transition.
I’m a big fan of Alan Bennett, and the wit and charm of this particular script never fails to bring enjoyment, and in this production by the Little Theatre Company, I found nothing to contest that fact.
It was pacy, well-acted, smart and funny from start to finish, with a talented cast fielding some excellent one-liners and asides.
The story of a group of youngsters preparing for their entrance exams to Oxbridge may not ring true for many people, but the themes presented are universal.
The relationship between staff and pupils - and how it can sometimes become blurred – the pain of striving, and the importance of individualism, are all addressed within the play, and bring a poignancy to the production.
Promotional literature describes The History Boys as a story about the compelling anarchy of adolescence, and I agree with that. It takes everyone back to their school days, and makes people question not only what they are seeing, but the very nature of education itself. I, for one, came away contemplating the value of my academic qualifications when compared with the cultural knowledge which has both been imparted to me and which I have picked up along the way.
Many of the references made in the play, both within the hazy general studies lessons led by Mr Hector, are literary, artistic and classical – something which is inevitable given the themes of the play – but I do not think the use of these references makes the play inaccessible. It adds context and a richness which, I think, appeals to everyone. Certainly, the mood of the audience suggested they appreciated the quotations, references and ideas being discussed.
One of the things I love about this play – and something which was done very well by this cast – is that it does not seek to explain itself. Plot devices and issues are raised not to provoke a reaction, but simply presented. Homosexuality, inappropriate relationships, and even the holocaust, are put there for the audience to experience. It makes no effort to judge or celebrate these issues. They are what they are.
The History Boys takes works on so many levels, and each was represented by both the group of youngsters playing the Oxbridge candidates, and the adults portraying their teachers. They brought to the stage a touching, sympathetic adaptation of an extremely well-known play, which somehow remained fresh and engaging to a receptive audience.