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Rachel Clements reviews Alan Bennett’s ‘The History Boys’!

Rachel Clements, a third year English Literature student, reflects on a recent performance of The History Boys at the Cheltenham Everyman.


Written by Alan Bennett and directed by Kate Saxon, the ‘Sell A Door’ theatre company’s production of The History Boys opened at the Cheltenham Everyman on March 30th. Having seen the play before (albeit with a different cast and director) I knew what to expect; but that didn’t lessen the excitement of seeing ‘Britain’s favourite play’ all over again. When I entered the theatre the curtains were already open, showing off the stage. The set design was very detailed, particularly the bookshelves and functioning doors which opened out onto a school corridor and noticeboard. Although none of the plays action took place outside these doors, the attention to detail – which included minor cast members peeking in through the doors at regular interviews – was a nice touch. The set also attempted to convey the atmosphere of not only 1980’s northern England but also the emotions of the boys. A sign hung above the set read ‘hold on tight’ which, as pointed out by the director, alludes not only to the boys frequent trips on Hectors motorbike (also hung above stage) but also to the students tumultuous journey from boyhood and high school to adult life and university.


Personally, the highlights of the play included the brilliant Steven Roberts as Posner. Roberts’ solo renditions of the plays songs, including Bewitched, bothered and bewildered, were well received by the audience, who did not hesitate to applaud the actor. Notably, the audience ovations lent energy to the already fluid and fast moving production, as the actors clearly took pleasure in the positive responses they were receiving. I also found Joshua Mayes Cooper as Timms particularly good. James Corden’s performance as part of the original stage version and film adaptation – although well – acted – rendered Timms less agreeable in my opinion. Mayes Cooper, however, made Timms a source of likeable comedy, bringing light to the frequent darker moments of the production.

            Although I am never able to enjoy any portrayals of Hector and Mrs Lintott more than I did those of the late Richard Griffiths and Francis De La Tour, I thoroughly enjoyed Susan Twist’s performance as the witty, exasperated history teacher. When I originally saw the performance in 2012, the decision had been taken to omit Mrs Lintott’s pivotal speech, which is delivered to the boys at the mock Oxbridge interviews. Mrs Lintott ends her monologue with the line ’history is a commentary on the various and continuing incapabilities of men. What is history? History is women following behind… with a bucket.’ This ending sentence is a favourite of mine within the play, so I was disappointed when it was missed out the first time I saw the production. Happily, Sell A Door remained true to the original material, and I think the performance was made better for it.
            Overall, I found the play without fault. Each actor was perfectly suited to their role, and the more delicate moments of the script were handled with integrity. On the other hand, such moments were never allowed to become too unhappy, as the comedic elements of the play were emphasized throughout, leaving the audience hopeful for the future of the boys and the journey they are about to undertake. The final scene – Hector’s funeral – sees a return of the character as played by Richard Hope to impart final words of wisdom; the best of which is his highly relevant comment on education and experience. Hector stands at the very edge of the stage and looks into the audience, saying: ‘pass it on boys…that’s the game I wanted you to play…pass it on.’
            Sell A Door’s production of The History Boyswas very much worth the wait, and I left the theatre wishing I could return to see it again the next evening.


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