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The History Boys onstage at the Gryphon Theatre

The History Boys onstage at the Gryphon Theatre

Stagecraft Theatre is taking audiences back to school with their production of the Alan Bennett classic, The History Boys, on at the Gryphon Theatre from 29 – 9 July.

The History Boys, which won a Tony Award for Best Play in 2006, poses important questions around education and professional conduct, and does so with Bennett’s trademark wit and heart.

The play is set in the early 1980’s at a prep school for boys in Sheffield, England. A group of wise-cracking history students are preparing for the Cambridge and Oxford entrance exams, under the tutelage of four very different teachers.

The unruly boys are united by their intelligence, humour and appetite for a good time. The play follows them as they navigate the hurdles of pursuing higher education.

Directors Paul Kay and Joy Hellyer are tasked with marshalling their cast of 12, eight of whom are playing teenage boys and are close to their characters in age.

“It was important to us to cast authentically,” Paul says. “The boys bring an effortless sense of energy and mischief which is vital to the play. Alan Bennett is an outrageously funny writer.

“There are some great gag lines, but most of the humour lies in his very eloquent turn of phrase. The aim for Joy and I is to capture his witty, quintessentially British humour.”

Paul went to school in England during the time the play was set, so he brings his first-hand experience to the play’s direction. This was one of the things that drew him to directing this play.

While a rollicking story with a lot of comedy, The History Boys doesn’t skim over some of the more serious issues for prep schools around this time. The play questions the purpose of education, and the typical routes to higher achievement. It also holds a magnifying glass up to professional conduct.

Paul says, “It’s set in the 80’s, so a hallmark of education in that period was that a teacher’s word was as good as law. There was no internet or anything for instant fact-checking.”

19 year old actor Peter Rogers agrees. “It’s interesting because attitudes about misconduct have changed over the years. Back in the 80’s it was an internal affair. Now, one post on Facebook and it’s all over the internet and on Stuff.”

Peter plays Dakin, the most charismatic student and also the most manipulative.

“Dakin is charming, but in spite of that, he’s not really that likeable. He definitely has psychotic tendencies,” says Peter.

“I guess there are Dakin characters all around us, but at smaller schools like the one I went to, he’d get found out a lot quicker.”

Peter auditioned for the cast of The History Boys because he read the play and loved it, so he Googled upcoming auditions and was happy to see that Stagecraft was putting it on.

The History Boys is the second Alan Bennett play of Stagecraft’s 2016 season. Earlier this year, the company put on Kafka’s Dick. The company received a postcard from Alan Bennett himself, expressing his well wishes and remarking that it was flattering for his plays to be put on all the way over on the other side of the world.

Tickets for The History Boys are available at iTicket.co.nz or by calling 0508 iTICKET (484-253).


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