The History Boys, Grand Theatre. Wolverhampton - review
Continuing the success of the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre in-house productions, until February 22, audiences can enjoy Alan Bennett’s classic dramatic comedy caper The History Boys.
The play premiered at the Royal National Theatre in London in 2004 before enjoying enormous success on both national and international tours, as well as on Broadway, finally returning to the West End.
Set in the 1980s, although Bennett admits the context of the play is not necessarily time specific, The History Boys, as the title would suggest, features a class of sixth-form lads from a Sheffield boys’ grammar school, 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.
Under the direction of actor and director Jack Ryder - who made his name at a tender age, appearing as Jamie in EastEnders before moving into direction and boasting productions of Calendar Girls, The Band and The Full Monty among his work - this play is probably both Bennett’s and Ryder’s best yet.
Ryder’s depth of characterisation, ability to extract humour and in complete contrast, the handling of sensitive material within the play is exceptionally truthful which makes it feel as if, as an onlooker, you were watching a snapshot of life rather than simply entertainment.
The set was plain and unobtrusive and therefore did not distract from the drama, but the clever use of back projections and musical interludes between scenes ensured the play remained both visually appealing and sanguine.
There really was no need for an array of props, such is the strength of the piece, but the few used were moved smoothly by the cast, thus retaining flow and fluidity from scene to scene.
Bennett's complex and highly intelligent script was delivered at pace, yet remained intact and perfectly coherent, making the storyline clear and easy to follow; again testament to Ryder's excellent direction.
But, without doubt the key to the success of this play is the casting. You would struggle to find a better group of actors to rival Marc Frankham's choice.
The title demands eight intelligent, extremely talented young men and that is exactly what you got.
The way in which 'the boys' have gelled in rehearsal is very apparent and the type of identification with their characters they have achieved only happens when you come together, make real friends and live the role, which in turn comes across the floodlights.
Frazier Hadfield as Scripps, the steadying, sensible voice of reason within the group, played his role to perfection with confidence and appeal, while Jordan Scowen as Dakin is unashamedly direct and offers a mature performance of this difficult part, way beyond his years.
Dominic Treacy as the cheeky, chirpy Timms is everything you want him to be, given that he is following in the footsteps of a couple of excellent comedy actors who have previously taken this role, with astute comic timing and a tangible sense of mischief.
The dynamics of the boys as a class work perfectly, with each and every one constantly portraying schoolboy shenanigans, whether in the background or at the fore.
For me, Thomas Grant as Posner steals the show, with a completely uninhibited, very natural portrayal of this delicate, lovesick teenager, as well as making me laugh out loud on more than one occasional with his superb comedic skills.
Meanwhile, in the staff room so to speak, Grand Theatre favourite Jeffrey Holland offers yet another excellent dramatic performance, this time as the headmaster, while Victoria Carling is every inch the female in a male dominated environment with a strong, yet wonderfully composed portrayal of Mrs Lintott.
WATCH a trailer for the show here:
Lee Comley as Irwin, the radical new teacher in the boys' midst, is also very well cast, bringing a fresh feel to this role, but there is no doubt the evening belongs to seasoned actor Ian Redford as Hector, who despite his character's crude indiscretions somehow managed to make you forgive and even feel compassion for this man.
The Wolverhampton Grand Theatre's version of The History Boys is without doubt their best collaborative in-house production yet and one for which the whole team and cast involved deserve a 'Ten out of Ten' and a 'Go to the top of the class!'
Runs until February 22. Call 01902 429212 or visit grandtheatre.co.uk for tickets.