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Top Class Theatre at The Court

Top Class Theatre at The Court

It is a rare thing for a play to offer something for everyone, but THE HISTORY BOYS, playing at The Court Theatre from May 24 – June 21, does just that. This modern classic is a combination of comedy and tragedy, politics and philosophy within an intensely personal story of adolescence and anticipation.

Ostensibly about a group of rowdy young students studying for their Oxbridge exams in 1982 Sheffield, the touching and witty script explores the purpose of education as two radically different teachers vie to shape their pupils’ hearts and minds, while the boys themselves struggle with adolescence. The production opened to critical and commercial success and became a world-wide smash, winning 3 Olivier Awards in 2005, 6 Tony Awards in 2006 and was adapted into a feature film in 2006.

Director Elric Hooper believes THE HISTORY BOYS resonates powerfully with audiences because of its universal themes and personal nature. “Bennett wrote the play as a reflection of his own experiences of adolescence, a meditation on the nature and value of education and a critique of the Thatcher era. What is most intensely private to the writer can also be most universally understood by the audience”.

Intensely theatrical, THE HISTORY BOYS moves seamlessly through time and place to reveal an era when the debate over “teaching to the test” confronted ingrained beliefs of knowledge as an end in itself - a theme still relevant today - and reveals the outcome of choices made by students and teachers in their modern lives.

Long-serving and eccentric teacher, Hector (Tim Bartlett), believes knowledge has its own intrinsic value; that by learning poetry, literature and even scenes from old movies, his students will have an antidote for life: as he says to his class “learn it now, know it now, and you’ll understand it whenever”. New teacher Irwin (Jonathan Martin) is brought in and, in opposition to Hector’s passionate style, promotes a more calculated, “trendier” method of making controversial statements and finding an “angle” in their essays rather than simply stating facts and dates.

While the students consider their futures and these conflicting ideologies, Posner (Cameron Douglas) – largely based on Bennett himself - finds himself hopelessly attracted to his classmate Dakin (Lawrence Smyth), who is in turn attracted to Irwin and his new way of thinking. As the battle for the class’ hearts and minds grows, the Headmaster (Geoffrey Heath) and History teacher Mrs Lintott (Yvonne Martin) are drawn into the struggle. The result is a story as tragic as it is funny – a play filled with wit, charm and poignancy.

Hooper says THE HISTORY BOYS captures “the feeling of aristocracy and invulnerability of youth - something you never experience again in your life”. Special workshops were held during the rehearsal process in order for the eight actors playing the students to create a feeling of unity, familiarity and camaraderie essential to the relationships on stage. This was an education for the actors as much as bonding exercises: learning the numerous poems referenced in the text, listening to the music of the time and watching the old movies Hector has the students learn in class; the cast immersed themselves in the world of the play.

THE HISTORY BOYS is a combination of themes and ideologies: a comedy-drama of classroom rivalries, a metaphor for the education system as a whole and an almost autobiographical exploration of the author’s memory. The Court Theatre will present it for what it is: a superb work of life-enriching theatre and a first-class production.


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