Venue: Drama Barn
I was transported right back to when I was a sixth former, studying Alan Bennett’s History Boys during the hot summer of my final exams. The dazzling performance of the cast and the warmth of the Drama Barn brought back the fond memories of the boisterous optimism of that summer. The looming thunder had no sway over the excellent reception given to this hotly anticipated sell out show.
Having borne witness to a wide variety of encouraging and productions through the York Drama Society, History Boys is the strongest performance I have seen since being at York. The ambition of this production is reflected in its run of four nights instead of the regular three, and its reluctance to shy from any challenge. Visually in this performance there is little in ‘the spirit of adventure’, as Alan Bennett’s Headmaster might say, but Bennett’s play has a poetry, comedy and pathos which becomes obvious to all who are fortunate enough to watch a good performance of this modern masterpiece. Not only were the performances on stage executed flawlessly, but brought to stirring life: I did believe the boys’ teacher Hector was suffering a tragic late-life breakdown after his exposure for mishandling the boys, and the inclusion of song was as funny and moving as Bennett dared it to be in his script. There is a joyous certainty whilst watching this performance that all the challenges of the play have been risen to, that any clouds of doubt have passed over.
Unfortunately at the time of going to press, the cast list and production team have been unavailable, but there are compliments to individuals that I can pass, if the gratitude towards the overall production has not been adequately expressed. To Hector and Irwin, as warring identities then touchingly brought together in their confused love for the boys; to Mrs Lintott, whose startling outburst in a turn which addresses the underlying misogynistic cynicism on the play was both startling and affecting; to the Headmaster, whose spittled rage was fantastically Basil Fawlty-esque. To the boys, who were tremendous in all their moments of mischievous glee and expressed anxieties; not least to Posner, who bravely embraced a challenging role, Dakin, who had all the disaffected cool of Dominic Cooper’s original celebrated performance, and Scripps, whose position as insider/outsider I had never previously thought much of. Again, to overplay individual efforts is to hazard under-acknowledging the remarkable ability that has brought this production together, and the Director should take credit for the successful run I am sure this play will take.
‘Pass the parcel on’ is Hector’s parting wisdom, and so I will: go and see it.