Nicole Evans (The Public Reviews)

A thought-provoking couple of hours Set in the 1980’s, six Tony Award winning, The History Boys aims to point out the strengths and flaws of an education system perceived to be rapidly declining. Covering a class of boys preparing for a shot at Oxbridge exams it explores every aspect of confusion in both teaching and being taught, and despite the notion that teaching has changed drastically over the last 30 years, the parallels to the current system are still at the forefront of our minds. The simple set grabs our attention as we take our seats; a wall of books and a motorbike suspended by the ceiling stand out and are immediate talking points for the audience. A classroom set up is all that is provided for us to visually set the scene, and it soon emerges that it is all that is needed. We soon meet the many stars of the show and with somebody on stage for each and every one of us to connect with in some way, we are quickly drawn in to the events that are unfolding. Encompassing very different attitudes towards teaching, from the clear cut league table orientated results approach of headmaster and the straight talking facts of Mrs Lintott to the life-lessons-learnt approach of Hector, both the boys and the audience are taught valuable lessons, neither quite knowing what is right or wrong and where the two should cross over within the characters in front of us. Most of us have that one teacher who stands out way above the rest, not only can you remember his name, but his facial features, what he wore, how he did his hair. He went out of his way to make teaching different, to make it fun, and once you left education you appreciated him a little bit more every time you were reminded of him. Of course he’s bothered about results, but less about league tables and perceived intelligence, his idiosyncrasies seek to prepare you for the world you will face when the education system turfs you out. Those who didn’t have that teacher, now wish they did. This is exactly who Alan Bennett sought for Hector to represent in this play and Richard Hope captures every last inch of the job specification, managing to portray his character with such warmth that you, and his fellow characters, almost find yourself forgiving his outrageous crimes and celebrating when they are reprieved – and then later question your reasons for doing so. Christopher Ettridge is well suited to his role as the hypocritical headmaster and he perfects the do goody, panicky persona of one who feels the government and its ideals are breathing down his neck at every turn of page. Mark Field portrays the awkwardness of Irwin’s character subtly yet superbly. Brought in as the expert yet left feeling like the inferior being when faced with the boys’ divided loyalties to his teaching, not quite sure himself where he should be in life but supposedly imparting such knowledge on to others, his inner battle is clearly visible in every aspect of his performance. Steven Roberts makes his professional stage debut as Posner, and what a debut it is. Flipping from confidently camp to antisocially alienated he digs deep to show us the intricate levels of his character’s development. A thought-provoking couple of hours that will make you question the importance and origins of your own inner creativity and individuality, as you never know when the weight of the world’s expectations might just kill it off altogether.