Wolverhampton Grand Theatre – 22 February 2020
Alan Bennett has long been a playwright who’s work I jump at the chance to delve into. His penmanship is such that every character is formed before an actor and director even begins to put in their own interpretation. History Boys is long overdue a revival and the production (which has been meticulously directed by the hugely talented Jack Ryder) is a treat indeed. I could not fault it and thoroughly enjoyed a fantastic evening at the theatre.
History Boys is set in Sheffield and follows the story of a group of boys who have excelled at secondary school against many odds. Their headmaster (Jeffrey Holland) is baffled by their abilities in History yet keen to aid the lads in their Oxbridge quest and brings in a young teacher by the name of Irwin to keep them on track and give them all the help they need to pass the looming examination. We are also introduced to their current teachers, Mrs Lintott (Victoria Carling) and Hector (Ian Redford).
As we get to know each boy’s quirks, passions and ideals we also get a good insight into the lives of the teachers. There are also a few fast forwards to life after this momentous exam which are eye opening, heartening and alarming in equal measure. The set is fairly simple, making scene changes easy and fluid. There are monitors showing filmed scenes from the playground and we see madcap teacher, Hector on his ever-present motorbike. When the film picks up from the action on stage it’s wonderfully consistent and as enjoyable as the live scenes.
Holland is almost unrecognisable as the stern, bold Headmaster. I’m extremely familiar with him and I forgot it was Holland playing the role, he plays it brilliantly. Redford is exceptional and superbly engaging as Hector. He’s quite a pivotal character and there are so many emotions in play at once, Redford explores the complexities of the role in an interesting way. Many of the laughs are induced by his lines.
Lee Comley brings out the best and worst of Irwin, from his awkwardness and inner battles with himself to the passionate emotions he portrays when he attempts to push the boys beyond their limits. Carling as Mrs Lintott reminded me of one of my teachers. Compassionate, understanding and full of gumption. It’s an inspired performance of a character who could easily blend into the background.
The boys are all to be applauded for their team work, they managed to simultaneously perform as one while each showing the qualities of their characters. Arun Bassi brought a quiet confidence to the role of Akthar, Joe Wiltshire Smith was extremely entertaining as rugger-mad Rudge, while Adonis Jenieco brought Crowther to the fore subtly. James Schofield as Lockwood showed thoughtful characterisation as the cock-sure one in the group and Dominic Treacy is perfectly cast as Timms, he drew my attention for all the right reasons. Jordan Scowen’s job as Dakin was to show us a boy at odds with himself even though he appears to have no self awareness either, tricky role but he pulled it off flawlessly.
This cast give a masterclass in drama, it’s unmissable and with such a limited run catch it at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre before it finishes on 22 February: History Boys tickets
Photo Credits: Tim Thursfield/Express & Star