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Emerging talent bid to emulate The History Boys in new Grand Theatre show

By Alison Norton | Theatre & Comedy | Published:

The smash-hit play The History Boys heralded a new Brit Pack of future stars like James Corden, Matt Smith and Russell Tovey.

The History Boys will arrive at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre next February

And now Wolverhampton Grand Theatre is hoping to showcase a host of emerging talent with its own in-house production.

The theatre will stage its version from February 7 to 22 next year directed by former EastEnders actor Jack Ryder.

The director, who played Jamie Mitchell in the soap, has forged a successful career in theatre with productions of Calendar Girls, The Full Monty and more recently, Take That's musical The Band.

“I have never directed a Bennett play before,” said Jack.

“I think his writing, particularly in this play is some of the best ever.

"The dialogue is dazzling and you could dissect the layers of the play forever.

"I always knew of the play, but had never read it or seen it.

"Then my brother saw it and told me it was the best thing he had ever seen.

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"I remembered that for years and years and so when this play came into my lap, I was under the impression that it was set in Cambridge or Oxford, but then I learn that it was in fact set in a state school in Sheffield, so these were the type of boys I went to school with. That intrigued me."

The History Boys cast transferred the play's stage success to the big screen starring James Corden, Dominic Cooper, Andrew Knott, Jamie Parker and Sacha Dhawan

The History Boys features a class of sixth-form boys, all striving to get to Oxford and Cambridge, under the watchful eyes of a quartet of strong, passionate educators – a results-driven headmaster, the straight-talking but kind Mrs Lintott, a charismatic, but somewhat depraved Hector and a young, nonconformist teacher Irwin.

In the two early runs, the cast featured many rising stars who are now household names.

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For the Wolverhampton cast, many of the actors are taking part in their first professional play.

The cast features Adonis Jenieco, Arun Bassi, Dominic Treacy, Frazer Hadfield, James Schofield, Joe Wiltshire-Smith, Jordan Scowen and Thomas Grant.

Dominic Treacy, who has just graduated from the Central School of Speech and Drama, is playing Timms, the role which James Corden made famous in the 2004 National Theatre production and the later Broadway version and film.

“I love the play; I love the character and it is one of those roles that is a dream to play so fresh after graduating. I can’t wait to get started,” he said.

Frazer Hadfield, who plays Scripps said: “I studied the play in school and it’s a great play. It’s so universally loved.”

To get into the role the cast visited Thorns Academy in Quarry Bank to get a feel for school life.

Joe Wiltshire Smith, who is taking the role of Rudge said, “I have never laughed so much in my life at the script. The wit is so apparent on the page and the energy of the boys is unreal.”

The role of Lockwood, once performed by Doctor Who and The Crown star Matt Smith in the 2005-6 UK tour, is played by James Schofield.

He said: “I think that dynamic never changes. Boys messing around at school whilst still trying to work themselves out is universal, which I think is really nice about the play.”

The cast of The History Boys at the show preview at the Mount Hotel, in Tettenhall. Picture: Jonathan Hipkiss

Victoria Carling plays history teacher, Mrs Lintott, who was portrayed by Frances de la Tour in the original cast and film version.

"When I saw I was the only woman in the play, I was momentarily a bit nervous, but the actors are lovely, boys are just gorgeous and it is written by Alan Bennett who is friend to women as well," she said.

Victoria spent six months teaching in a young offenders’ organisation and so has drawn on her experiences there to help create her character.

“They played some tricks,” she laughed. "I suspect Victoria needs to be ready for more tricks, courtesy of the young men in this play too."

Actor Lee Comley is playing the role of Irwin - a departure from his regular job as a weekend newsreader for ITV Central.

“He is a young upstart teacher who has been brought in to shake things up a little with these boys,” Lee said.

“He has the sole task of getting them into Oxford and Cambridge at the last minute, so he has to change what they have learnt to fit the style of exam and interview.

"He’s all about twisting the system to give them a better chance, which is at odds with some of the other styles of teaching they have been used to. That’s where the conflict comes.”

The role of Hector, which won Richard Griffiths an Olivier and Tony award, is taken by Ian Redford.

Richard Griffiths as Hector in the film version of The History Boys

The actor has had roles in Coronation Street, EastEnders, Midsomer Murders and Casualty to name but a few, but he is also passionate about education.

He was influenced by a teacher at his school who encouraged him to become an actor and singled out his talent.

“I was flattered that someone took an interest in me and he made me feel special. People get scarred by what happens to them at school so I was lucky,” Ian said.

Ian was instantly drawn to this role and indeed The History Boys as a play.

“I was very excited to see how Bennett approached this play,” said Ian.

"Of course, it’s not just about education; it’s about human relationships, sexuality and how far can you allow a teacher into a child’s life to influence them.

"Everyone who sees the play will have been through some form of education and will have had a similar experience."

Hi-De-Hi’s comedian and regular performer in the city, Jeffrey Holland, is at the helm as the headmaster.

For tickets, visit www.grandtheatre.co.uk or call 01902 429212.

Alison Norton

By Alison Norton
@AlisonNorton

Theatre critic and unofficial 'am dram queen' for the Express & Star and Shropshire Star

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