Written by Alan Bennett
Directed by Jarrad West and Christopher Zuber
The Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre to September 16
Reviewed by Len Power 1 September 2017
You’d be forgiven for not feeling very excited to hear that ‘The History Boys’ is about an unorthodox teacher and his colleagues at a British grammar school trying to prepare some gifted young men for the upcoming Oxford and Cambridge entrance exams. However, this funny, engaging and ultimately moving play by Alan Bennett goes a lot further than that with its comments on education and educators, gender, sex, morality, behaviour and life in general. Everyman Theatre have given it a powerful and memorable production.
Co-directors, Jarrad West and Christopher Zuber, have assembled a dream cast who fit their roles perfectly.
Chris Baldock, as the eccentric General Studies teacher, Hector, commands the stage in a towering performance as he inspires his students while infuriating the very straight Headmaster, played superbly by Geoffrey Borny. Their confrontation scene involving an accusation of a serious breach of conduct by Hector, is chillingly well played by both actors.
Hayden Splitt as the new History teacher, Irwin, gives a nicely quiet, thoughtful performance of this man who is not yet very sure of himself and Alice Ferguson perfectly plays the confidence and cynicism of an elderly teacher who has seen it all.
Front: Lucas Frank, Henry Strand, Cole Hilder, Glenn Brighenti 2nd Row: Patrick Mandziy, Patrick Galen-Mules, Andrew Macmillan, Jack Tinga. Back Row: Chris Baldock, Alice Ferguson, Geoffrey Borny, Hayden Splitt. Photo: DC Photography
This play wouldn’t work if you don’t have a group of powerful young actors to play the ensemble of eight students. Every member of this ensemble looks right and convinces as bright young intellectuals. Their sharp characterizations, energy and confident rapid-fire delivery are exciting to watch. Each actor gets his moment to shine and embraces it skilfully.
The play is performed in the Courtyard Studio in the round. It’s an excellent choice as it draws you deeply into the action of this play. The directors keep the pace going at lightning speed and the depth of characterizations achieved by the cast is a credit to their choice of actors and their direction.
The set is simple – just non-descript classroom desks and chairs – but that’s all the play needs The lighting design by Hamish McConchie is well done, showing us clearly where we are in time in the play and there are well-chosen costumes by Fiona Leach. There were also some nicely subtle sound effects that added atmosphere to the show.
This is a play you’ll never forget and Everyman Theatre’s production of it succeeds on every level. Don’t miss it!
Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7’s new ‘On Stage’ program on Mondays from 3.30pm and on ‘Artcetera’ from 9.00am on Saturdays.