Edinburgh Fringe 2010
Close Up Theatre present Alan Bennet’s History Boys in the Greenside Theatre. A group of academic and erudite schoolboys have their sights set on entry into the much revered Oxford or Cambridge universities. Heaven forbid they might end up studying in the lesser institutions of the like that are Durham or Sheffield. Their final school year of study, and coming of age, experiences are influenced by maverick and unorthodox teachers and the play develops around these relationships.
The students have a particularly special bond with their English teacher, Hector, who holds their attention with his blatant disregard for the curriculum and instead focuses on pushing their minds beyond the boundaries of the examination board. Hector creates an anarchic classroom environment that is fuelled by monetary gain, if the students manage to outwit him, and crosses the line between teacher and pupil discipline. The arrival of a young male teacher, Irwin, new to teaching, and a new member of staff, causes a stir as he tries to steer the boys on track to pass the extremely competitive entry tests. The classroom demographic, of this boys’ only school, consists of several strong characters. One in particular, the arrogant, confident and physically beguiling Dakin, turns the heads of classmates and tutors alike. It is the adoration of this male that complicates the storyline, as Dakin’s peer, Posner, is deeply in love with him but also aware that the new tutor Irwin also desires him. Bennet adds more intrigue by revealing that the stalwart Hector has a reputation for groping pupils during supposed benevolent rides home on his motorbike.
He is spotted at traffic lights, by the Headmasters wife and his fall from grace creates an impetus that belies the initial regard that his pupils show him, delving into their sexual hopes, desires and the ironic power of youthful beauty. The one female staff member, Mrs Lintott , provides dry, acerbic yet sage guidance to balance out the testosterone fuelled antics, almost the voice of reason.
This young but gifted cast hit the nail right on the head. The commitment and talent, that belies their age, are in abundance and in this first night, full house, they grab Bennet’s writing with both hands and are clearly enjoying it. The stage is mainly set as a classroom, with subtle light and sound cues. You are transported back into the 1980’s with clever music choices that date and enhance the storyline. Using Culture Club’s, “ Karma Chameleon”, to punctuate the changeable beast that a classroom of teenagers are, or the subtle addition of Pink Floyd’s,” Us and Them”, when Hector is found out are skilful additions to Bennet’s superior writing. The background is a set of four simple flats adorned haphazardly with stills from cinema and Hollywood stars. Casablanca, Marlon Brando, Robert Mitchum, Laurence Olivier, to name but a few, all stare inspirationally back into the classroom.
The scene the cast portray perfectly in French is totally hilarious and their timing and femme fatale impersonations are delightful. The headmaster, Henry Baylis, is superb, and captures the idiosyncrasies of the school manager perfectly. The intelligent timing of his dialogue as he tried to steer his teaching team, and was unable to hide his own inadequacies merited the laughs the audience responded with.
The school pupils perform tasteful vignettes in Hectors class, depicting Now Voyager or Brief Encounter and these are directed with immense scrutiny. Dakin, Lachlan Bond, eschewed the traits of complicated pubescent perfectly. He was believable in his arrogance, immortality and the world being his oyster. Showing no real surprise when he knew he had admirers, he stealthily develops his character into the adolescent predator. Luke Priest, the cast understudy, played the integral part that is Posner, with intense insecurity. His serenade of, ” Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered”, wrapped in innocence and the desperation that is unrequited love.
This play was 2 hours and 45 minute long and they could maybe have shaved of a little here and there but at no point did it feel superfluous. A short break was inserted and they began the second half of the drama from the audience, startling everyone into silence. It was a strong idea, by Director Rebecca Vines, that worked. The audience applauded with gusto at the end of this performance and all the cast thoroughly deserved it. It’s only here for five days, enjoy.