Bella Todd (The Stage)

A good, well-cast production Alan Bennett takes great satisfaction, at the close of his comedy about the value of education for education’s sake, in revealing that the eight boys go on to be nothing so very much at all. But The History Boys’ reputation as a seedbed for young male acting talent has been growing for more than a decade. Are there new Russell Toveys, Dominic Coopers and James Cordens within this cast? The class of 2015 are the best thing about Kate Saxon’s good production of what has always been a flawed play. You believe in their inexpertly sardonic horsing about, their uncomfortable smirks, their haircuts. Steven Roberts works hardest as a gangly Posner, trailing after class hunk Dakin (Kedar Williams-Stirling) in limp-limbed lamentation, but finding his own elastic grace performing showtunes. Silly suspended motorbike aside, Libby Watson’s cosy classroom, lined with dusty books and pop culture posters, is a set the boys are both at home in and fast outgrowing. Richard Hope is a less fruity and flamboyant Hector than Richard Griffiths, his tragedy gentler although no less morally jarring. As his adversaries, Mark Field is a rather limp Irwin, but Christopher Ettridge seizes his comic moments as the headmaster. “You are aware that these boys are Oxford candidates?” he demands, while stepping over a pair of discarded trousers. Set in the 1980s, The History Boys is really riddled with an older, grammar school nostalgia, so that the loud bursts of Heaven 17 and New Order here feel incongruous. Instead the energy radiates, as always, from those famous set pieces. Like Hector, The History Boys is still warming itself on the vitality of the boys. Verdict: A good, well-cast production that nevertheless flags up the flaws in ‘the nation’s favourite play’