REVIEW: The History Boys

‘Bewitched, bothered and bewildered…..’ I was certainly bewitched from start to finish. I have not missed a YouTheatre production from the outset, and was very pleased to be asked to review their production of ‘Hot Flush’ last year. I am well used to the quality of performance and the high production values embodied by this company, so I felt privileged to be asked to review ‘The History Boys’ and I am happy to admit that I came along with very high hopes.

A sublime piece of writing, by one of the most evocative writers to have put finger to key in my lifetime, this play requires a Director with vision, and a cast with talent and also discipline. Too easy would it be to play on the ‘easier’ moments; the crowded classroom, the intermittent swearing, the sexual tension to provide the punch in this piece. I am delighted to report that in his direction Chris Malone showed unerring sensitivity that allowed the relationships between all the characters to develop through the piece, and enabled every character to display their sense of humour and their own story within a bittersweet story that unfolds in front of us.

To my mind ‘The History Boys’ is a story about several things. It is a story about boys becoming men, not in a physical sense but in the sense of responsibility. During the course of this play they learn that the boyish optimism is easily cracked, and crumbles fast. It is a story of the realisation of futility. At the end of the play the Headmaster publicly remembers Hector for exactly what he doesn’t want to be remembered for. The melancholy I felt at the end of the piece is testament to the disply of natural acting talent I was presented with, and superb team effort that produced this wonderful show. I take my hat off to all involved; it was a wonderful evening of Theatre. Entering the Myers Studio, I was presented with a very well thought out set. The classroom and the common room were both thoroughly believeable, and sitting on the individual seats in the audience almost felt like sitting at a school assembly at the end of term. Credit should be given to Chris, Becky, Michael and Stuart for a great set, lit appropriately by Danny Willis, and also to John Sutherland for his work on sound.

To the Actors! Firstly the boys: Fabulous performances to a man. From lead parts to several chaps who didn’t have much in the way of lines, every part was vital and credit certainly goes to Nick Mead, Dean Robertson, Steven Watkins, Sam Brown and Edward Thomson whose characterisation and enthusiasm really brought to mind a bunch of schoolboys! The horseplay, their interaction, their general demeanour was wonderful, and made those classroom scenes both enjoyable and convincing. Michael Leopold showed as Scripps, the devout and sweary pianist, his ability to put across a nonchalant character that has much beneath the surface. Michael’s asides, and his piano playing were excellent. A great performance.

Jonathon Ford gave us ‘Dakin’ a handsome and talented individual who is the object of both Posner and Irwin’s affections. Ford was a delight. Showing his macho and confident side to be ingrained, and the way he demonstrated his ‘knowing’ was very entertaining throughout the play. A laid back delivery, and a confident command of the stage gave us a standout performance amongst a very talented bunch.

Vince Baldwin was ‘Posner’ gay, Jewish, troubled, and seemingly determined that his life was not destined to really go anywhere. Baldwin played the part with aplomb. From his beautiful voice to his wonderful sensitivity on stage, Vince was the archetypal Posner. Extremely endearing, and totally authentic from start to finish, I loved every second of his performance.

To the Common Room…Gail MacLellan played Dorothy Lintott, the old hand, the experienced History teacher, seemingly a calming influence amongst the tweed and the testosterone of the common room. Gail delivered completely in this role. She was sweet and acerbic in equal measures, I particularly enjoyed her summing up of her feelings on the headmaster later in the piece, a very thoughtfully delivered performance, well done Gail.

Geoff Brown gave us The Headmaster, a man who under other circumstances would fly under the radar, but faced with Hector and his fiddling, The Headmaster combusts. This is a tough part. Geoff had to be pompous and supercilious enough for us to dislike, whilst still reminding us that in essence he is right! His job was to get boys into Oxbridge, and his discovery of Hector’s goings on is something he had to deal with. Geoff was perfect. He was funny and strangely charming as the Headmaster, he put across the pomposity beautifully and we were left in no doubt that he just didn’t ‘get’ Hector by the Eulogy he gives towards the end of the piece. Credit to Geoff Brown for a lovely and very funny performance.

In Irwin, Nick Tamila made his YouTheatre debut. And what a debut. Nick took on a really difficult role. Irwin is only in essence a few years older than the boys, and obviously much younger than the other members of the common room yet he is the secret weapon. He is pitched against Hector to ready these boys for their entrance exams. Nick showed real tenacity with this part. Up against the natural teacher, Hector, Irwin has to establish authority and earn the respect of everyone. Tamila was a joy to watch. Busrting with energy, and surprisingly aggressive, Tamila owned that classroom and very much reminded me of one of my own teachers, from way back when. Good job!

I have seen Bob Hamilton in many many shows over the years, and I suppose part of me has been waiting to see him play Hector for some time! Boy, was I pleased I did. Bob did not disappoint. Bob’s easy command of the stage, his demeanour in class, his interaction with the other staff members, every occasion was exactly as I wanted it to be. I think Hector is a very difficult role. Every emotion is displayed, and to characters that often are unaware or not understanding. Hector’s breakdown in the classroom was gut wrenching. His performance in the ‘French scene’ was a joy. Such was the strength of Bob’s performance that I was teary looking at his picture projected on the rear of the stage. This is one of my favourite roles for Bob, a real challenge, and he really showed the diversity of his talent during this production. For me, Bob was a Tour de Force.

All in all a really fantastic production. Credit to absolutely everyone involved, the staging, the acting, the direction was all beautifully handled, and a more talented bunch I haven’t seen for some time. A thoroughly enjoyable evening. I’m very much looking forward to another opportunity to review a YouTheatre production, I can always be confident of a wonderful night of theare, and for that I thank you.

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