Thursday, 9 February 2017

“The History Boys”
Nottingham Arts Theatre
The play opens in Cutlers' Grammar School, Sheffield, a fictional boys' grammar school. Set in the early 1980s, the play follows a group of history pupils preparing for the Oxford and Cambridge entrance examinations under the guidance of three teachers (Hector, Irwin, and Lintott) with contrasting styles.
This is the only school-play in English drama that is about the process of teaching. Not just about the sexuality or politics of school life but about the daily process of opening up young minds. We get to see the heroic Hector, and the insidious Irwin - the play's intellectual antagonists who just so happen to be in the same boat sexually - at work in the classroom.
The play is also sublimely funny, not least in a scene where Hector improves the boys' French by getting them to impersonate the clients of a bordello, only to be interrupted by a surprised and astonished headmaster.
The original film paved the way to stardom for Matt Smith, Dominic Cooper and James Corden. Cassie Hall’s directed production shows some of Spotlight’s very own stars in a very favourable light as well.
The humour is as sharp as when Bennett wrote the play and the whole 1980’s feel is still very evident from the soundtrack used. What is also still crystal clear is the distinctive light and shade of the story with the repressed but evident, to the boys at least, sexuality in the all boys schooling of the period.
Robert Goll (Hector), as always commands the stage and his background in Shakespeare meant for wonderful projection and stage presence. For a sixty year old character like Hector though, Rob looked decades younger. An absolutely watchable character performance.
Alex Huntley (Irwin), i know from the University's Musicality shows and makes his local theatre debut as the young teacher who is drafted in to rock Hector's teaching boat. A good solid performance and completely believable. The passion his character has is wonderfully played out.
Mike Butler (Headteacher) gives an authoritative performance throughout and completing the teaching staff is Jackie Dunn (Mrs "Totty" Lintott. You'd hardly recognise Jackie in this role because her usual glamorous self is made under for the dowdy role. I remember Frances De La Tour from the film and there was a certain amount of 80's glamour in the character and I felt Mrs Lintott could have been made to look a tad younger. In fact Jackie could have played it looking like her usual self, young and attractive.I'd forgot what a potty mouth Lintott had though!
Joseph Smith (Dakin) played the role as the "head" boy in his stride and looked comfortable with the adoration from Posner (Alexander Tilley), and why shouldn't he, Dakin is full of confidence and knows what he wants and usually gets it.
Alexander is another actor making his debut for Spotlight and a really assured performance he gives as well. A voice of an angel with the blond good looks of the self-troubled character, making him the perfect choice for the role.
Patrick McChrystal (Scripps) is also part time narrator and Posner's pianist accompaniment. Confident and relaxed in this role, which is what I've come to expect from Paddy.
Stan Cook (Rudge) also plays a blinder as the not as clever as the rest lads. Is there a mistake in the programme as it says that Stan is only 15 years old? Really? A very mature performance with credible CV of theatre roles already behind him and this part enhances that roster of roles.
Jack Grace-Buttenshaw (Crowther) is another one making his debut in adult theatre and for Spotlight as well. A young actor to watch for in future productions.
Matty Collins (Timms) is another one of those actors i feel comfortable watching and knowing that he was in this show enforced my knowledge that I would love this production. A lovely character-driven role and we can all remember this type of character in every class.
Nathan Bell (Akthar) has a credible list of parts behind him in the Nottingham Playhouse Youth Theatre and has worked with some of this cast, and director Cassie Hall on previous productions.
Last, but by no means least (let's face it someone has to be last mentioned) is Alec Boaden (Lockwood), who obviously started acting very young as he has been acting for about 12 years and has come up through the ranks of the widely acclaimed TV Workshop in Nottingham. Alec has a busy year ahead and I hope that i get to see more of his work.
All the cast work so well and look like a class of teenage lads, which makes this play so easy to watch and true to life. The bonding of the characters and cast are plain to see.
One of Bennett's finest and much loved pieces hasn't faded with age and this cast and technical team present us with a wonderful piece of classic theatre.
There are small musical interludes from the cast, but it still gets the emotions going when the cast sing "Bye Bye Blackbird".
Did I touch on the technical team? I did so let's expand a bit. Keeping true to original, director Cassie Hall manages to keep the action going and fresh with "fill ins" from classic 80's hits which maintains the smooth scene changes with minimum fuss.
Ray McCloud (is that the correct spelling in the programme?) was responsible for the music and Amanda Hall produced.
Stage managing and keeping everyone where they should be, when they should be is smooth operator Amy Rogers-Gee and her crew.
I can't not mention the lights, which were timed to (almost) perfection ( I saw just one missed cue by a second - I can be so picky at times).by the lights wizard Tom Mowat. The ending of the stark black and white image of Hector in the spotlight was eerie and so effective. The timing of the spot to the cut off of the music was snappy.
All in all this was always going to be a success with me as I love the film and love the theatre version and this production is up there with any professional production you may have seen in the past.
A great cast who acted with conviction which created the whole feel of the period and being back in the classroom. Plus all the literature mentioned swept me back to my school days. i didn't realise that i could hark back that far to be honest, but I did.
It will leave you with as warm a feeling as Hector's cupped palm and as ballsy as well.
“The History Boys” is being performed at The Nottingham Arts Theatre until Saturday 11 February 2017.

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