Sam Marlowe (The Times)

Shrewdly funny... A vivid, propulsive rendering of a 21st-century classic Roaring out on the road again, here’s Alan Bennett’s hugely popular 2004 school drama, trailing clouds of poetry, ambition and adolescent hormones like the exhaust fumes from its maverick teacher’s motorbike. An examination and the randomness of history and life, it’s both ardent and shrewdly funny, and Kate Saxon’s new production for Sell a Door has a pacy fluidity. Bennett offsets his ideas with theatrical anarchy – outbreaks of song and monologue – well matched to teenage emotional tumult and Saxon deftly handles the shifts from intimate and intellectual to riotous. The 1980s Sheffield grammar school setting is adorned in Libby Watson’s design with neon signs blinking a garish promise of future possibilities: “Live the dream,” exhorts one. Also dangling overhead is that motorbike, property of Hector, who is passionate about instilling in his sixth-form charges a love of knowledge for its own sake – and partial to illicit fondling when he persuades the boys to ride pillion on lifts home. As played by Richard Hope, he’s vigorously flamboyant, collapsing dramatically onto his desk in mock despair at his pupils’ cocksure cheek. This action is mirrored poignantly later when, his wandering hands exposed, he is given his marching orders. Hector is on a collision course with Irwin (Mark Field), a supply teacher charged with coaching the boys for Oxbridge entrance exams. Field’s Irwin is strikingly young, the boundary between him and the swaggering student Dakin (Kedar Williams-Stirling) dangerously thin; when Susan Twist, bracingly lemony as the history teacher Mrs Lintott, alludes to Dakin’s conspicuous charms, you can almost see the sweat on Field’s brow. Among the classmates there’s a stand-out performance from Steven Roberts as sensitive, Jewish Posner, who, like Irwin, is enamoured with Dakin. Whirling into a French cabaret number in Hector’s unorthodox lesson or listening, horrified, as Irwin describes the Holocaust as just another historical event, Roberts is as vulnerable as an open wound. A vivid, propulsive rendering of a 21st-century classic.