Review / The ‘Boys’ are in a class of their own

Theatre/ “The History Boys”, written by Alan Bennett and directed by Christopher Zuber and Jarrad West. At the Courtyard Studio until September 16. Reviewed by JOE WOODWARD

“The History Boys”.

THE intimacy of living in the closed world of a school and a classroom, as with any closed system, is both potentially life-enhancing and potentially life-destroying at the same time.

There is always going to be a generally unacknowledged eroticism that accompanies the interactions and illusory emotions that spring forth in the charged environment where youthful spirit and observant attention meet.

Alan Bennett’s “The History Boys” is a tough play that holds up this often-bizarre world to scrutiny in a humorous, critical and sympathetic way.

Contemporary school environments have become so aware of the dangers inherent in classroom relationships that a process of reducing learning down to cold snippets of isolated goal setting has become the norm.

Bennett’s play is difficult to watch at times as it ruthlessly throws up polemical questions and situations that can be applied to history via observing the classroom. The is complex work made accessible by very identifiable characters who happen to be quite exceptionally talented students. The argument sequences were perhaps the strongest parts of the play. The text has the deft touch of the philosopher.

The directors have carefully charted this terrain with a rhythmic control that captures the tensions within the creative energies and deceptions inherent in classroom dynamics.

It is a dialectical world without being filled with cardboard cut-outs for characters. Each actor has imbued the role with a deeply evident humanity that is enriching and beautiful. Performed in the round, the audience is invited into the artifice of the class, which pits rationalism against empiricism and idealism against reality. The banter and the quotations become highly entertaining as the students are challenged and step up to meet the intellectual stimulus presented to them.

Everyman Theatre has created a distorted universe and invited the audience to put aside judgement and disbelief for a short time; only to then consider the issues and acknowledge the contradictions within it.

Perhaps the play might have been stronger without the epilogue that attempted to tie things up in a sentimental and slightly preachy manner with some overly written dialogue tagged on to the characters and situations.

However, this didn’t detract from a most engaging and exciting night of theatre where one became totally unaware of time while being absorbed in a refreshing and very effectively paced presentation with something to think about.

 

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