Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The History Boys *****

There is a great deal of positive history behind The History Boys, a justly successful film being the most accessible avenue into the text. This brief production is a roaring success and a great addition to the annals of History Boys fame.
The set was simple and effective. A few desks and chairs made up the classroom that was the center for most of the action throughout. The chairs were often moved about in the scene changes as director Christopher Luscombe capitalised on the energy brought to the show by the young cast. The centre of the stage was fitted with a revolving circle, on which the classroom was set. During various scenes the set would rotate in the middle; the boys at their desks turning slowly round. This was a good effect that added a needed dynamic to the simple structure of one class after another.
I also enjoyed the scene changes, where music would suddenly burst onto the stage as the set was energetically cleared and moved ready for the next scene. All of the music was chosen carefully and was well suited to the show as well as being very exciting and upbeat (which, incidentally, gave a strong contrast to the emotional final scenes), allowing the ball to continue bouncing higher without ever being dropped. One of the most remarkable things about the show as a whole was the sheer amount of energy involved. Everything was dynamic and active, whether it was the physicality, the script and language, the relationships of even the scene changes. There was always something happening and with a forceful cheekiness behind it that made it very watchable.

The actors were brilliant throughout. Philip Franks brought an aged authority to the character of Hector. Someone who has seen and done a great deal of what’s on offer as a person, he added a natural and passionate excitement to the part. His lessons were chaotic and undeniably fun, the one that stands out being the brothel that has to quickly transform into a hospital in the trenches when the headmaster enters. He was wonderfully cast and his wizened years worked fantastically with the energetic youthfulness of the younger cast.
Penelope Beaumont was not to be outdone. The lone woman in a male-dominated show is not an easy part to play but she did so with an exact sense of comic timing that left the audience in stitches regularly. Authoritative and confident on stage her character came across as realistic; perhaps she was drawing on her own experiences as a teacher, perhaps not. She nailed the character to perfection.
The contribution of Ben Lambert is not to be underestimated. He doesn’t look at all younger than the boys in the class so his position is more relatable. He comes in trying to make a difference, trying to stamp his authority on the class but finds it harder than he had first thought. Lambert plays this with a suitable air of struggle and confusion at the boys’ unwillingness to co-operate.
The group of boys were all wonderfully cast. George Banks as Dakin was very strong in the central role among the boys, walking the line between ability and arrogance carefully and subtly enough to appear human. It was Rob Delaney as Posner who stood out, however. Very well characterised and also incredibly talented he shone throughout. He captured the tormented nature of Posner’s situation well (‘I’m a Jew, I'm small, I’m homosexual and I live in Sheffield. I’m fucked.’) while at the same time bringing out the positive enjoyment in the character. His delight in all forms of performance are clear, especially his singing, and very enjoyable.
All the boys worked together really well. All the actors had formed characters that were both relatable and funny, in typical Bennett style. Christopher Keegan’s Timms was relentlessly funny and Peter McGovern’s Rudge was unfalteringly blunt. Everyone seemed to have something that set them apart from everyone else while still managing to keep the foundation of their group together.
The whole cast came together very well indeed, making every moment beautifully hilarious. There was nobody that appeared out of place or out of their depth and the group were clearly all very much up for having a laugh with each other. This is one of those things that you can’t really fake and adds a very positive dimension to the show when it’s there. It was there and it was obvious.

Any criticism leveled at the show would be born out of a perceived need to criticise and be forced, as nothing stood out as weak or misdirected. It was a unified show in which even the small things were carefully designed to contribute to the whole and did so very well.
The show is very cheeky and energetic and the team behind this production captures this very well indeed. It’s flawlessly funny and relentlessly energetic and both of these are wonderful things to sit down and watch. The time flew by and I was gutted at the curtain. I loved this production and urge everyone to find when it tours near you and to go and see it. Theatre at its best on display here.

Written by Alan Bennett; Directed by Christopher Luscombe; at the Rose Theatre, Kingston; Starring Philip Franks, Ben Lambert, Penelope Beaumont, George Banks, Rob Delaney, Christopher Keegan, Peter McGovern; Runs from 

John Ord (03/02/2011)

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