Review: The History Boys, Grand Opera House

Eighties idealism… The History Boys
9 Jun 2015 @ 9.39 pm
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The History Boys, Sell A Door Theatre Company

Grand Opera House, York

Until Sat Jun 13 @ 7.30pm; 2.30pm matinees Wed & Sat


Theatre website

First produced as a stage play in 2004, The History Boys has been produced pretty much non-stop ever since. Of course, all versions after 2006 have had to bear comparison with the movie adaptation, with a famously starry cast including James Corden and Richard Griffiths. I’ll try not to do that here, much.

Written by Alan Bennett The History Boys is a tale of schoolboys studying for the entrance exam for Oxford University in the early 1980s under the influence of arts-loving free spirit Mr Hector and the more straight-laced Mr Irwin.

The struggle between Hector’s mantra of knowledge for knowledge’s sake and Irwin encouraging the boys to think outside the box is at the heart of the story. Throw in some pre-Yewtree inappropriate behaviour and some smarter than the average kids and you have yourself a play.

Key relationship Richard Hope as Hector and Mark Field as Irwin
Key relationship Richard Hope as Hector and Mark Field as Irwin

In this production, a game cast of young men take on the schoolboy roles, the most famous of them being Steven Roberts, of Hollyoaks fame. All the boys acquitted themselves well, with the standouts being Alex Hope as religious Scripps, and David Young as sports-mad Rudge.

When it comes to the ‘adult’ cast, all eyes really fall on the dynamic between Mark Field as Irwin and Richard Hope as Hector. Taking on the Hector role in the shadow of the legendary Richard Griffiths (both on film and stage) is a thankless task but Hope pulled it off. His final speech brought a tear to the eye of this cynical reviewer!

Field played Irwin’s ambition and (spoiler!) sexuality in an understated manner, never letting it overshadow the wider themes.

Having Hector’s motorcycle hanging above the classroom for the duration of the action served as a constant reminder of his wrongdoing. It is to the testament of Bennett’s writing that Hector remains such a likeable character, despite his obvious flaws.

The script remains strong, being sharp, funny, political and moving.

Having scene changes soundtracked by hits of the Eighties roots the action in its period, and subtle hints remain that it is set in Sheffield; I think I counted three Human League songs.

This production of Bennett’s classic play is definitely worth seeing. Not perfect but as a representation of an idealised northern school in the Eighties it works beautifully.

Now, where did I put that DVD?