Arts / ‘History’ in the making

“The History Boys”…”A diverse, lovely young cast of energy,” says co-director Christopher Zuber.

“EVERY man has a story” is the motto of Canberra’s Everyman Theatre – and every boy, too, if the company’s coming production of Alan Bennett’s “The History Boys” hits the mark.

“CityNews” caught up with Christopher Zuber, by day a drama teacher at Dickson College but after hours the co-director, with Jarrad West, of the show coming soon to the Courtyard Studio.

Certainly, there are differences between Dickson College and Bennett’s fictional 1980s Cutlers’ Grammar School in the North Country of England, where kids don’t usually get into Oxford or Cambridge.

But there are some things in schools that never change and Zuber is right on to them.

“What inspired me was all that energy, all the banter that you get in the classroom setting,” he says.

“You don’t have to be a teacher to remember what classrooms are like.”

As for the dialogue in “The History Boys”, it’s familiar and the dynamic in the classroom is familiar, too.

“But in terms of language, Bennett’s students are so bright and so well read – it’s not so common to have that in the classroom here,” says Zuber.

There may be cultural differences, but one thing that seems very up-to-date about the Tony and Olivier award-winner, first staged in 2004, is the official obsession with the idea that education is something that is measurable – something you can do for a test.

“Bennett presents both sides of the argument, but the play also suggests something about learning that goes beyond getting into higher education,” says Zuber.

Co-directing is traditionally considered a complex affair, but Zuber says: “We are mostly both in the room and although we’ve spread things occasionally, Jarrad and I are in constant conversation with each other.

“Jarrad is more experienced than I am in the directing stuff and, as a person, he is more outspoken… I’m a bit quieter, so I think we work pretty well together.”

Zuber is being excessively modest. An accomplished actor who has performed for Everyman and who played Macbeth for Canberra Rep, he has also done plenty of the “directing stuff”, both as a drama student at the ANU and as a drama teacher, where he is constantly on the prowl for plays with big casts.

The play is being staged in the round, challenging in the intimate surrounds of the Courtyard Studio, but this is where having two directors pays off, because both can be moving around the rehearsal room.

The auditioned cast includes graduates from the Canberra Academy of Dramatic Art and a couple of former students of Zuber’s – “a bit odd”, he says – but they are mostly not long out of school, so some can seem a lot younger.

“It’s quite a diverse, lovely young cast of energy,” Zuber says.

“The History Boys”, Courtyard Studio, September 1-16. Bookings to canberratheatrecentre.com.au or 6275 2700.

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