I URGE you to pick up a ticket…
By Kieran Wyatt (Grand Young Blogger)
Ryan laughs through his nose. This creates a wheezy, odd sound. I begin to worry that the woman adjacent will start getting wind of this nasal exhale and turn to look disapprovingly at the two of us. I do not begrudge Ryan his laugh. This is a very funny play. One of the plus points of laughing with The History Boys is that one feels the buzz of being a sophisticate, a smart person: you get Gracie Fields; I understand that Auden reference… However, there is so much more to this brilliant play.
The staging is one classroom and the glimpse of a corridor, nevertheless it is constantly alive with the light of the energetic performances or the balanced use of sprite, red lighting. On Tuesday night The Grand rolled out a suitably ’80s playlist and with this the scene was readily set for Alan Bennett’s The History Boys.
Set in early ’80s Sheffield, The History Boys revolves around a group of school boys preparing to take their Oxford entrance exams. The Headmaster, keen to be pushed up the league tables, employs a new teacher, named Irwin, fresh out of university. Irwin has some interesting ideas about how the boys should communicate in their exams, ideas which clash with the flamboyant, ‘flim flam’ style of older teacher, Hector.
The rest of the play centres on the relationship of the boys and the three distinct types of teaching they are exposed to. Not only concerned with the lessons the boys are taught, the play explores sexuality, religion and the almost universal theme of teacher/pupil relationships. The best parts of The History Boys come from the individual classroom or corridor scenes which glossily range from a French farce in a pantaloon-less brothel – all in the subjunctive, mind – to a poignant moment in which teacher Hector describes to one of his boys what it is like to connect with literature.
The lights come up after the end of the first half and Soft Cell boom out of speakers around the golden, lightly lit dress circle. I buy a drink and sit back down to await the second act, Ryan is with me and as the interval continues Tainted Love reaches its peak. We begin to nods our heads in approval of the track and then, in a tentative leap from what may be acceptable in a theatre to something else, we begin to sing along. My fears are completed and the adjacent woman turns to raise an eyebrow. The houselights go down and our nods settle to fix on the stage, which sits below a hanging motor-bike and a couple of illuminated, neon signs.
The History Boys at The Grand Theatre is a constantly entertaining play, brimming with humour and sadness. I enjoyed every moment – from the piano focused musical segments, which beautifully break up the action with some ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered’, to every gibbet from this incredibly clever and endlessly quotable play. The History Boys plays at The Grand Theatre until the 18th April, I urge you to pick up a ticket and – in the words of Hector – pass it on.
The History Boys
Tuesday 14 to Saturday 18 April 2015
Click here for tickets and booking information