A lifestyle blog all about Birmingham, UK.

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

REVIEW: The History Boys, Wolverhampton Grand

There aren’t many writers I love more than Alan Bennett. His work has made me feel every emotion possible in the past, from the incredible Talking Heads monologues that I had the total joy of studying during my A Levels all those years ago, to The Lady in the Van; I have absolutely adored his work. So I was delighted when I saw that The History Boys, arguably his greatest piece of work, was arriving in Wolverhampton. And even better, it’s a Wolverhampton Grand Theatre production, so I just knew that it was going to be special.

The History Boys follows an unruly bunch of sixth-form boys who are battling in their pursuits of sex, sport, banter and a place at university. They are a bunch of very bright lads, keen to leave Sheffield behind and get into Oxford or Cambridge. However, their teachers have a very different way of teaching the boys, and very different ideas of what they should get out of school, and achieve in life. But the Headmaster is all about the school moving their way up the league tables, so brings in Oxbridge graduate Irwin to teach the boys a thing or two about getting into a top university.

General Studies teacher Hector teaches the lads how to recite poetry perfectly, how to have conversations in French and the pure joy of words, essentially giving them an hour to just enjoy themselves, whilst learning a huge amount about real life. On the other hand, Irwin pushes the boys to think outside of the box. There is a stark contrast between Hector and Irwin; the lads see Hector as fun, and Irwin as the serious one. The audience get to see how differently the boys act around the two polar opposite teachers. But which one do they learn more from?

The production is very funny, but is, in equal measure, incredibly deep and thought provoking. The main element of the show though is that of emotional and physical abuse of the boys, first by Hector, but also with hints from Irwin. This element would have obviously been a large part of the production, but in the #MeToo era, it’s important to have story lines like this more than ever.

The audience had the joy of being able to get to know each character individually, with the time and effort put into each role. The role of the super strict headmaster was taken on by Jeffrey Holland, alongside Hector being played by Ian Redford, who managed to make the audience dislike him for what he does to the boys, but also feel a sense of sympathy towards him for what his life has become.

Lee Comley made the role of Irwin his own, and Victoria Carling’s take on Mrs Lintott was brilliant, and the perfect casting for the sweet but sassy role who is keen for the boys to understand women. The cast is completed by Thomas Grant as Posner, Jordan Scowen as Dakin, Frazer Hadfield as Scripps, Joe Wiltshire Smith as Rudge, James Schofield as Lockwood, Arun Bassi as Akthar, Dominic Treacy as Timms and Adonis Jenieco as Crowther.

Stand out performances though came from Thomas Grant, who was simply made for the role of Posner, Frazer Hadfield’s take on Scripps and Jordan Scowen’s role of Dakin.

The sets were uncomplicated, simply going from classrooms to the headmaster’s office. But one element that I really liked in the show was that between scenes, the production used screens to show the boys outside of the classroom, which gave us an insight into what was happening around the school grounds. This was a really imaginative and innovative way of keeping the audience entertained whilst sets changed, and we were treated to a cracking set list of 80s songs to accompany the videos shown on screen.

The History Boys is one hell of a show; taking us from hilarious moments to deep, dark conversations. We get to see so much character progression in the production in just over two hours, and learn about where life took each boy, which was a lovely touch. The production was funny, witty and snappy, but also salient and really important.

I can’t recommend this show enough. It is a fantastic show, and I hope we get the opportunity to see Wolverhampton Grand Theatre continue to keep producing such high quality productions.

The History Boys: 10/10

*I was gifted two tickets to this show in exchange of a review on this blog. I have not accepted payment for this review. I paid for all travel to and from the theatre.

All pictures captured by Tim Thursfield/Express & Star.


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