“The History Boys” is set in working-class England in the 1980s, and anyone from that era will instantly love rehearing the music of those times – The Cure, The Smiths, the Pet Shop Boys. Anarchy in the UK used to have far better background music than it does today.
But it’s the words, not the tunes that are most admirable in this witty and intelligent play. The script crackles with one-liners and entertaining sketches as eight boys are groomed for a place at Oxford or Cambridge. It’s funny, sometimes poignant and riddled with social commentary as the scholars debate historical facts and the more pressing issues of getting laid and getting to university.
Graham Hopkins as Hector, the history teacher, and Michael Richard as the pompous headmaster spar against each other beautifully when the cunning head decides to hire a new young teacher to groom the unpolished diamonds. Hopkins always excels in the role of extremely bright, but eccentric characters, and here he captures right degree of bumbling, fumbling weakness behind his outward appearance of untouchable insouciance. He’s a teacher who hides behind the literary quotes of others to avoid exposing his own thoughts and feelings.
Theo Landey is suitably irksome yet almost unsure of himself as Irwin, the new teacher not much older than the boys he’s trying to impress.
Louise Saint-Claire as the sole woman in the show and really grabs her moments to deliver her acerbic lines with glee, clearly relishing a small, but refreshing chance to wipe out all the soaring testosterone with some female earthiness.
Among the boys, it’s Roberto Pombo as the weak, gay Jewish boy Posner and Clyde Berning as the cocky, swaggering Dakin who really score top marks. Sometimes the lines delivered by the other boys are lost in the general scuffling and shuffling of the classroom scene, but Pombo and Berning deliver perfectly.
Director Alan Swerdlow has given us a sharp, fast-flowing production that’s a joy to concentrate on and savour. DM
“The History Boys” runs at Montecasino Theatre until 11 September.
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