Alan Bennett's play about a Sheffield boys' grammar school in the early 1980s started life at the National Theatre. What is billed as 'the nation's favourite play' is perhaps so because of it's timeless nature. The play follows a group of history pupils preparing for the Oxford and Cambridge entrance examinations under the guidance of three teachers with very different styles of teaching.
For what is an obvious commentary of school at the time, it is apparent that behaviour and attitudes in Bennett's play are not far removed from our own days of education - regardless of era. Despite the familiarity within the classroom setting however, what is presented at times is far from realism... It would be difficult to imagine in a modern school, let alone one in the 80s whereby a student was openly 'seeing' the head teacher's PA and not merely an eyebrow is raised.
Without wishing to refer to the boys a stereotypes (for their characters are much deeper than that), the troubles within this group of eight would be recognisable in almost all classrooms and it's that familiarity that makes the two hours and forty minutes pass by quicker than break time.
You easily find yourself engrossed in this new production from Sell A Door. It's a play full of warmth despite darker undertones and with huge heart, it's humorous interludes are both lyrical and visual. Imagine for example, an explicit French scene - acted atop a desk without trousers, smoking... anything goes as Hector's lesson prepares the boys not for exams... but you can't help but like Richard Hope's enthralling English teacher Hector. Despite inviting the boys for unsavoury rides on his motorbike, Hope transpires Hector's wonderful way with words to the stage from the page in a affectionate portrayal.
Hollyoaks' Steven Roberts, in his stage debut is charming as Posner and Kedar Williams-Sterling as Dakin commands presence as the most advanced student. The subjects are all handled so tastefully and pieced together under the narration and piano playing of the excellent Alex Hope as Scripps.
This new production of the play voted the nation's favourite is entirely captivating, a production that shouldn't worry about being consigned to the history books. Far from the past, it's as ever relevant today. Even as a spectator you are in fact a pupil - learn from this masterpiece that reason for education (and ultimately great theatre) is to pass it on.
Top marks for The History Boys at Birmingham New Alexandra Theatre until Sat 28 February. Tickets here.
Cast List: Steven Roberts, Kedar Williams-Sterling, Alex Hope, David Young, Patrick McNamee, Sid Sagar, Joshua Mayes-Cooper, Matthew Durkan, Mark Field, Richard Hope, Christopher Ettridge, Suswan Twist, Chris Barritt, Melody Brown.