The History Boys

Alan Bennett
National Theatre production
Theatre Royal, Newcastle, and touring

Desmond Barrit in The History Boys
Production photograph

With one South Bank Show, two Critics' Circle, two Evening Standard and three Olivier Awards (including, in each case, the award for best new play), there is little that the reviewer today can add to what has already been said about the play itself, except, perhaps, to comment on the accuracy of its portrayal of some schools and teachers. In his summary of 2004 in London theatre, Philip Fisher describes it as "Alan Bennett's comedy about school life in the 1950s (even if it was set in the 1980s)". That is true, but it is also true that the attitudes expressed by the teachers are just as current today. As a former teacher, I recognised both myself and my colleagues and, as for some of the things said by Hector and Mrs Lintott, I just want to know when Bennett was sitting in our staff room listening to our conversations!

This is a new cast, with Desmond Barrit replacing the much lauded and awarded Richard Griffiths as Hector. From all accounts, Griffiths was a hard act to follow but, for one who did not manage to see the original, Barrit certainly cuts the mustard. His Hector is crumpled in appearance, dismissive of current educational trends but filled with a love of literature and, in particular, a zeal to "pass it on". His somewhat cynical exterior belies the passion underneath and his comment towards the end about no longer seeing boys as boys but as work strikes a real spark of sympathy from the audience.

Reviewer: Peter Lathan

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