In a time where the importance of arts & culture in education is being devalued, (the threat of theatre studies being removed from the national curriculum, alongside continuing cuts across the arts council), Sell A Door Theatre’s production of The History Boys by Alan Bennett couldn’t be more relevant & urgent in its commentary on the current state of education.
It is 1984. We are in an un-named school near Sheffield where we meet Hector, played wonderfully by Richard Rycroft, teaching his young pupils in what may be labelled as a ‘General Studies’ lesson, but is so much more than that. The boys sing, quote & perform their way through Hardy, Orwell, even the Carry On series, and we think to ourselves “what wonderful, well rounded young men”. We look on these lessons with pure jealously, but we soon learn that these lessons are not regarded as important – as the boys and their headmaster believe they can’t possibly use anything from those lessons within their Oxbridge entry exams.
Enter Irwin – a very young cover teacher, brought in to help the boys succeed in the exams. David Hutchinson adopts the role of Irwin in a delicate and precise manner – despite his intelligence and charisma when he is teaching, Hutchinson shows the audience a weedy, painfully unconfident side of Irwin. Much like his figure in his clothes, we get the sense that Irwin doesn’t quite fill out his role as a teacher – a view shared by Hector when he finds that the poems and plays the boys have learnt in his lessons, have been reduced to tools to succeed in an exam.
The performance is narrated beautifully (both verbally and musically) throughout by the character of Scripps, played with sincerity by Joe Morrow. Scripps inquisitive nature as an aspiring journalist becomes our point of access to the more subtle relationships between the boys.
Directed with delicacy and attention, every subtle look, laugh & response to each other builds a natural and empathetic admiration for the characters, so by the time we arrive at the results of the exams and interviews, the audience are desperate for the boys to succeed.
A solid piece of theatre: subtle, intelligent and performed with a great collaborative energy. Just as life is like pass the parcel: take it, feel it, pass it on: seeing the show is a decision I took, felt, and am passing on to you.
Running till Sunday 24th June at Greenwich Theatre