The Green Room Theatre Company have made their debut at the Torch with their highly anticipated production of The History Boys.
Alan Bennett’s multi award-winning play is set in the 1980’s, a time of educational reform, and tells the story of a group of grammar school boys facing the trials and tribulations of teenage life as they say goodbye to the past and look forward to the future. They set their sights on Oxford and Cambridge University, with the coaching of three very different teachers. The play was first seen on stage in London in 2004. There were 185 performances before it closed in 2006, where it then took to Broadway. In the same year, a film was released starring virtually unknown actors James Corden and Dominic Cooper. It was very well received thanks to Bennet’s work on the screenplay. In 2013 The History Boys was voted Britain’s favourite play by readers of The Guardian.
The Green Room production two-hour show packs everything in, not wasting any of Bennett’s genius. An 80’s soundtrack sets the scene. The stage resembles a British school classroom, with desks and chairs, a piano and a door in the corner of the stage to be used as the classroom entrance/headmasters’ office. We are taken straight to the heart of the story, with the eccentric Hector (admirably played by Nick Wears) teaching the boys the importance of learning in preparation for life. Moments later, in a hilarious interlude, the boys are acting out a romantic scene from a Hollywood movie, while Hector attempts to guess which film they have chosen. We immediately warm to the cast in these moments, who go on to display versatility throughout the play.
Bennett’s traits of human suffering, comedy and tragedy are there and the cast portray them well. Director and co-founder of The Green Room Arron Evans also stars in the play as supply teacher Urwin. Evans’ deep passion for the play is evident in his execution of the production. He ensures a flair and energy in his fellow actors, a steady pace throughout and a smooth transition between acts. The use of flashbacks is effective and adds to the momentum of the final scenes. The lighting (Alex Davies) is minimalistic with spotlights for moments of confession and occasional full lighting for singing scenes and classroom antics.
The history boys, many of whom are from local theatre, include Nick Allen as Posner (stand out performance), Jack Butler as Dakin, Will Hughes as Scripps (a talented musician) Jordan Harries as Rudge, Radio Pembrokeshire DJ Ollie Cole as Akhtar, Alex Jukes as Lockwood, Charles Marshall Hanley as Timms (hilarious) and James Morjoram as Crowther. Their energy and talent provides much of the force of the play as they interact with the teachers and discover that they are human too.
Posner (played by Nick Allen) appears the most downtrodden of the group. A young Jewish boy who struggles with his homosexuality; his frustration and heartbreak is a central focus of the play. Allen presents this beautifully and we watch gripped as his story unfolds.
Nick Wears is a perfect fit as Hector. A passionate teacher who believes in the old ways of teaching, passing knowledge on for its own sake and using it to prepare for the future. He tells the boys that poetry is the antidote for life. When Hector’s own life becomes troubled, and his over familiarity with the boys is questioned, he turns to poetry. He wants to plant a desire for learning in the boys he teaches but he too is disillusioned by the life he feels he has wasted, and questions Urwin’s new style of teaching. His life later takes a tragic turn, and the lasting effect on the boys he teaches becomes apparent.
Director Arron Evans also takes on the role of Urwin, the new, unorthodox supply teacher. He pushes the boys to think about new ways to answer exam questions, causing them to ponder the course of their own lives and those around them. A complex role to play, as Bennett himself admitted, because ‘he doesn’t have the audience’s sympathy until two-thirds of the way through the second act’. Evans plays the young Oxford Graduate as haughty and opinionated. His vulnerability is visible at the edges, and this begins to unravel as the boys’ get closer to achieving success.
Stephen Butler’s Headmaster is a stuttering fool, with an oversized suit and big ideas for his students. His comic timing is perfect. He turns a scene that could be quite difficult to play out, into a hilarious encounter. ‘Fondling a boy’s genitals at 50 miles an hour’.
History teacher Mrs Lintott (played by Allison Butler) is the voice of reason in the play. Dry and sarcastic, she tells things as they are and despairs over the men who confide in her. Her shock and then anger at the headmaster over his reaction to Hector’s touching the boys inappropriately and frustration over the place of women in education shows a silent strength.
In the final scenes we discover what becomes of the boys, how Oxford and the years before have shaped their lives. In a poignant scene we are told they have normal jobs, except for Posner who will never forget the teachings of Hector. The headmasters final lecture to the boys, to use what you know, resonates with the audience. To make use of knowledge, in whatever way possible.
The Green Room present The History Boys with vigour, heart and humanity. The passion and talent of the cast is evident in their performances and this ensures the audience were entertained in true Bennett style.
The History Boys continues at the Torch until June 23 then goes on a short tour of the UK in the Autumn.