The History Boys, Buxton Opera House

History Boys-253Alan Bennett is a superb storyteller and this is his work at its best – a wonderfully crafted script that mixes humour and pathos with a compelling storyline.

The History Boys has been voted the nation’s favourite play and with material this good the audience should be able to expect great entertainment – if the director gets it right.

Kate Saxon’s production for Sell A Door Theatre Company is spot on and brings out the warmth of the characters and the world Bennett has created while at the same time allowing us to reflect on the darker issues it explores.

The set, by designer Libby Watson, is kept simple and effective and hanging Hector’s motorbike (ever the elephant in the room) above the stage is a genius idea.

The History Boys follows the last few weeks in school of a group of able sixth-form students in Sheffield who are being given extra help in applying to Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

Hector is a bumbling but endearing English teacher who believes in education for its own sake and gives unorthodox lessons that go beyond appreciating a love of language and literature.

His joy in the presence of the young minds of his pupils is clear but sadly he is also attracted to their bodies and ultimately this leads to his downfall.

In a desperate bid to get some boys into Oxbridge the headmaster, played by Christopher Ettridge, brings in recently graduated Irwin, a clever and tenacious supply teacher whose mission is to get results.

Their teaching methods contradict each other and while the boys remain loyal to Hector, played by Richard Hope, they are drawn to Irwin, played by Mark Field, which leads to conflict in the classroom.

It is left to Mrs Lintott, the wearied teacher who memorably laments that history is women following behind with the bucket, to act as the go between.

She got the pupils the excellent A Level results but is not regarded good enough to get them into Oxbridge, and her sardonic wit is brilliantly portrayed with a hilarious, touching performance by Susan Twist.

The two main characters in the classroom are the youngest pupil Posner, who is gay and Jewish and the object of his unrequited affections – the good-looking, confident Dakin, played by Kedar Williams-Stirling.

The characters of the other boys aren’t developed to such an extent in the play but they provide an excellent supporting cast.

Posner is played by Steven Roberts, who charms the audience with his singing and dancing as he flounces around the stage and is definitely the show’s stand-out performer.

The rest of the cast are, Alex Hope as Scripps, David Young, Rudge, Patrick McNamee, Lockwood, Sid Sagar, Akthar, Joshua Mayes-Cooper, Timms, Matthew Durkan, Crowther, Chris Barritt, TV director and Melody Brown, Fiona.

Lighting is by Chris Davey, sound Matt Eaton and music, Catherine Jayes.

The play can be seen at Buxton Opera House until May 23. For tickets go to http://www.buxtonoperahouse.org.uk

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