History Boys

Alan Bennett’s play, The History Boys, is about a group of eight history pupils in a Sheffield grammar school who are preparing to take their Oxbridge entrance examinations. The headmaster is very keen for as many of the boys as possible to get places so that the school will rise up the academic league table. He decides to hire a new teacher, Irwin, to provide extra coaching for the pupils. The appointment is, initially, short-term but with the possibility of a permanent appointment later on, perhaps if Mr Hector retires.Douglas Hector is the boys’ main teacher, but he is somewhat eccentric and delights in imparting knowledge for its own sake, not just for exam results. His general studies classes may include all sorts of strange activities, including passionate French plays acted out on the desks. He often locks the door to keep the headmaster and other teachers out. Another of his peculiarities is that he always insists on giving a different boy each day a lift on the back of his motorbike, but not Posner, the one boy who seems keen to have a lift.Much of the play revolves around the contrast between Hector and Irwin, who seem almost to be in competition over the boys. Hector is really not interested in getting them to Oxbridge, while Irwin is teaching them all the tricks that he feels they need. Then Hector is seen fondling the boys on the back of his motorbike….The History Boys is a good example of Alan Bennett’s work, where every word seems to be just right. The characters are all humane people, doing the best they can. Although the boys’ (and our) sympathies are mainly with Hector they realise that Irwin is offering them something they need. The only real problem with the play is that it’s hard to conceive of such a group of brilliant pupils all at the same school at the same time.The acting is excellent, particularly David Shackleton as Hector, but there isn’t a weak link. There is a very good piano accompaniment and the songs are sung well. The scene changes are very smooth, extras rolling double-sided screens around while a video shows at the back. This company is extremely professional and every one of their productions is well worth seeing.

Reviews by Alan Chorley

History Boys

★★★★

Dracula

★★

Cherry Orchard

★★★★

Azincourt

★★★★

Secret Garden

★★★★

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The Blurb

USS returns to the RCPE with this life-enhancing comedy on the anarchy of adolescence and the purpose of education. Eight intelligent and unruly sixth formers pursue the Oxbridge dream, questioning educational truth and teaching along the way.

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