I would describe myself as an Alan Bennett fanatic and this stems from reading The History Boys when I was 15 and falling in love with it. I realise that I am by no means alone in this, as there are many who would call this play their favourite, and rightly so. Everyone can remember their school days: whether it’s moments you loved, moments that shaped you, or moments you still blush at now and would do anything to forget. This is why The History Boys is timeless as it perfectly captures the nostalgia that we all feel for that period of our lives.
The play follows the journey of seven boys as they go through the gruelling process of Oxbridge applications, something many Durham students will be all too familiar with. Each of the boys are fighting their own personal battles as they navigate through the world of exams, teachers, religion, love and sex. Over the course of the play we see their opinions and perspectives grow and develop as they come to appreciate that there is never simply one way of looking at something. We also get to watch their relationships with one another as they laugh, fight and throw things.
The chemistry between the schoolboys is crucial to this production and I’m incredibly thankful to the actors who’ve managed to bring an unending, and occasionally infuriating, stream of banter to both rehearsals and the play itself. Alongside the boys, we have the teachers, who allow us to explore the other side of school. The headmaster is a perfect example of a teacher we’ve all had, as he slithers through the school, making wildly inappropriate remarks and trying to ruin everyone’s fun. Naturally, my favourite character is Mrs Lintott who brings a very welcome female presence and a fantastic feminist rant. Irwin starts out as a fiercely intelligent historian, shocking the boys as he broadens their perspectives and teaches them new ways to think about things. However, we also see a more complex side to Irwin as he learns more about the goings-on in the school and learns more about himself.
Finally, we have Hector, who allows us to explore wide-ranging gobbets, from Shakespeare to Gracie Fields, and reminds us that there is a fun and silly side to literature. I don’t want to spoil anything however I will say that, although some of Hector’s actions are despicable, Bennett shows us he is still a human being, something that is always worth remembering.
On a personal note, this is the last play I will direct in Durham and couldn’t be a more fitting way to end three years of DST. I am immensely grateful to have worked with such a talented cast and production team who have all worked incredibly hard. I am also so grateful for every opportunity that DST has given me and all the people I have been lucky enough to meet. I hope you all enjoy watching the show as much as I have enjoyed doing it and leave feeling suitably full of gobbets.
‘The History Boys’ is on at 7.30pm, 27th- 29th April in Castle’s Senate Suite.