The History Boys
24/05/2008 - 21/06/2008
By Alan Bennett
Top Class Theatre at The Court
It is a rare thing for a play to offer something for everyone, but THE HISTORY BOYS, playing at The Court Theatre from May 24 – June 21, does just that. This modern classic is a combination of comedy and tragedy, politics and philosophy within an intensely personal story of adolescence and anticipation.
Ostensibly about a group of rowdy young students studying for their Oxbridge exams in 1982 Sheffield, the touching and witty script explores the purpose of education as two radically different teachers vie to shape their pupils’ hearts and minds, while the boys themselves struggle with adolescence. The production opened to critical and commercial success and became a world-wide smash, winning 3 Olivier Awards in 2005, 6 Tony Awards in 2006 and was adapted into a feature film in 2006.
Director Elric Hooper believes THE HISTORY BOYS resonates powerfully with audiences because of its universal themes and personal nature. “Bennett wrote the play as a reflection of his own experiences of adolescence, a meditation on the nature and value of education and a critique of the Thatcher era. What is most intensely private to the writer can also be most universally understood by the audience”.
Intensely theatrical, THE HISTORY BOYS moves seamlessly through time and place to reveal an era when the debate over “teaching to the test” confronted ingrained beliefs of knowledge as an end in itself – a theme still relevant today – and reveals the outcome of choices made by students and teachers in their modern lives.
Long-serving and eccentric teacher, Hector (Tim Bartlett), believes knowledge has its own intrinsic value; that by learning poetry, literature and even scenes from old movies, his students will have an antidote for life: as he says to his class “learn it now, know it now, and you’ll understand it whenever”. New teacher Irwin (Jonathan Martin) is brought in and, in opposition to Hector’s passionate style, promotes a more calculated, “trendier” method of making controversial statements and finding an “angle” in their essays rather than simply stating facts and dates.
While the students consider their futures and these conflicting ideologies, Posner (Cameron Douglas) – largely based on Bennett himself – finds himself hopelessly attracted to his classmate Dakin (Lawrence Smyth), who is in turn attracted to Irwin and his new way of thinking. As the battle for the class’ hearts and minds grows, the Headmaster (Geoffrey Heath) and History teacher Mrs Lintott (Yvonne Martin) are drawn into the struggle. The result is a story as tragic as it is funny – a play filled with wit, charm and poignancy.
Hooper says THE HISTORY BOYS captures “the feeling of aristocracy and invulnerability of youth – something you never experience again in your life”. Special workshops were held during the rehearsal process in order for the eight actors playing the students to create a feeling of unity, familiarity and camaraderie essential to the relationships on stage. This was an education for the actors as much as bonding exercises: learning the numerous poems referenced in the text, listening to the music of the time and watching the old movies Hector has the students learn in class; the cast immersed themselves in the world of the play.
THE HISTORY BOYS is a combination of themes and ideologies: a comedy-drama of classroom rivalries, a metaphor for the education system as a whole and an almost autobiographical exploration of the author’s memory. The Court Theatre will present it for what it is: a superb work of life-enriching theatre and a first-class production.
Production Dates: 24 May – 21 June 2008
Performance times: 6pm Monday / Thursday; 7:30pm Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday (no show Sundays). 2pm matinee Saturday 31 May
Tickets: Adults $37, Senior Citizens $32, Tertiary Students $23, School Children $15, Group discount $31
Bookings: The Court Theatre, 20 Worcester Boulevard; 963 0870 or www.courttheatre.org.nz
AKTHAR: Javier Jarquin
CROWTHER: Kyle Chuen
DAKIN: Lawrence Smyth
LOCKWOOD: Michael Greenwood
POSNER: Cameron Douglas
RUDGE: Will Alexander
SCRIPPS: Nicolas Kyle
TIMMS: Ryan O'Connell
HEADMASTER: Geoffrey Heath
HECTOR: Timothy Bartlett
IRWIN: Jonathan Martin
MRS LINTOTT: Yvonne Martin
CREATIVES & CREW
BOYS' COACH: Jon Pheloung
SET DESIGN: Tony Geddes
LIGHTING & SOUND DESIGN: Joe Hayes
COSTUME DESIGN: Pamela Jones
PRODUCTION MANAGER: Chris O'Mahony
STAGE MANAGER: Annabel Butler
WARDROBE MANAGER: Pamela Jones
WORKSHOP SUPERVISOR: Nigel Kerr
PROPERTIES: Nicki Evans
HEAD TECHNICIAN: Geoff Nunn
OPERATOR: Brendan Albrey
SET CONSTRUCTION: Nigel Kerr, Maurice Kidd, Richard van den Berg, Richard Daem
COSTUME CONSTRUCTION: Pamela Jones, Emily Thomas, Bronwyn Corbett
THE HISTORY BOYS was first performed at The Court Theatre on 24 May 2008; the season runs until 21 June 2008.
2 hrs 40 mins, incl. interval
Review by Faith Oxenbridge 16th Jun 2008
In today’s prescriptive education system, where young people are increasingly reluctant to open their pencil cases until they know how many credits a unit of work is worth, Alan Bennett’s The History Boys offers some germane observations on the purpose and value of education. It also dabbles in historical revisionism, religion, unrequited love and sexual abuse.
The play, set in Thatcher’s Britain in the 1980s, follows a group of Oxbridge hopefuls from a Sheffield grammar school as they prepare for their exams. Conflict arises when the school’s league table-obsessed headmaster hires a bright young history teacher to drill the boys on the "right" exam technique, and throws him in with Hector, the shabby, disillusioned and occasionally inspirational "general studies" teacher, who believes that education is the enemy of education and that poetry and pain are the only education worth having. [More]
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer
Invigorating play that surprises, challenges and delights
Review by Lindsay Clark 25th May 2008
Everyone who is troubled by niggling doubts about the way the world now wags its public tongue, about education itself, or simply about the way human lives interlock and illuminate each other, should see this play. Here, the inimitable Alan Bennett has done some exquisite probing for us.
Following hugely popular performances of his play at a recent International Festival of the Arts in Wellington and an equally acclaimed film version, there is a hefty challenge for any local company to meet. With assurance and wit, Elric Hooper proves well-positioned to mastermind the process.
This is a treat of a play for a thinking audience. Although it is full of humour and surprises, serious questions are raised in the rapid turnover of lively exchanges. What do we value enough to pass on and whose words should it be in? Since there are so many perspectives to truth, is it not reasonable to select the one which pleases? Perversity has its own value. Stories then, or facts? Heart stuff or calculated head stuff?
The senior history class preparing for Oxbridge examiners meets these and similar debates head on .The play is set in the England of the eighties, but the issues are more relevant than ever. ‘Things matter more than people’ in our world it seems.
As always, it is the characters of Bennett’s world that engage our imagination and intellect – like a good brisk walk in fresh air, the play invigorates. For a start, there are the teachers, whose own stories are sketched through the way they regard and promote ‘general studies’ or history or treat each other. Their common goal should be to equip their students for entry into prestigious halls of higher learning, but the hidden curriculum carries much more. The boys themselves are lively, anarchic in the way of youth and already shaped by birth and circumstance to take this or that line of individual development.
This is a memory play, not linear in structure but put together from that final year at school. A young supply teacher, Irwin, played solidly by Jonathan Martin, comes to unsettle an otherwise predictable year as he ‘grooms’ the class to present their work for examinations, in such a way that they will catch attention and favour. His ‘journalistic’ approach is at the other end of the spectrum from the wildly eccentric, poetry- driven Hector, warmly presented by Tim Bartlett. Yvonne Martin has a strong line on the only woman in the team – Mrs Lintott – dealing with ‘five centuries of male ineptitude’, and Geoffrey Heath adds a finely calculated, ambitious Headmaster.
The eight boys each distinguish a strong individual presence and at the same time a dramatic unity that embraces even the outsiders in the group, such as Posner whose melancholy and music underpins a fine performance from Cameron Douglas. Will Alexander as the plain speaking, slow-thinking Rudge becomes a favourite with his memorable definition of history, while Lawrence Smyth as Dakin, glib sophisticate and sex bomb makes a complex key role seem easy.
The world of the play then is peopled with a generous range of interesting characters, revealed in ways that surprise, challenge and delight. Tony Geddes contributes an open set, rearranged at scene changes by gleefully choreographed flying male forms, reflecting the energy and playfulness of youth.
Indeed, rituals of one sort or another abound, distancing and making acceptable what is happening. The nonsense of the Oxbridge interviews is one example, as is the ‘benedictory’ groping Hector bestows on his students as they bestride the pillion of his motorbike. So too the closing moments of the play, a ceremonial farewell to Hector, are lifted from sentimentality and his last words given sturdy significance.
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