THE HISTORY BOYS
Sell a Door Theatre Company at the Arts Theatre Cambridge
Hector's trusty Triumph hangs ominously over the Sheffield classroom in Libby Watson's touring set – flanked by two cartoonish signs: You Are Here, and Hold On Tight.
Otherwise the design is unremarkable, stackable furniture, bookshelves shading into kitchen area [for the staffroom], posters collaged over the walls and large double doors witness to the original Edwardian architecture.
The maverick English teacher may lock the doors, but passers-by can still peer in, variously shocked, amused, intrigued by the goings on.
Kate Saxon's production catches the mood of secrecy and complicity. The play itself is an uneasy mix of styles and periods, in an educational landscape where league tables and open scholarships are mentioned in the same breath, foolscap paper is still in the stationery cupboard, Porter and Piaf are on the playlist with the Eurythmics and the Smiths [“our crap”] - the stunningly appropriate “when the leather runs smooth on the passenger seat” …
An excellent cast, especially the staff. Richard Hope is a believably extravagant Hector, relishing the opportunities for showing off with Shakespeare, but touching too in his moments of self-doubt.
A pompous, jobsworth Headmaster from Christopher Ettridge, a lovely Lintott from Susan Twist. We even see [rather too much of] the femme fatale Fiona [Melody Brown]. Not so sure about Mark Field's Irwin; a difficult duo to pull off, the young student teacher and the tv historian.
The boys a mixed bag – some, like David Young's “thick sod” Rudge a little mature, even from the circle. But Kedar Williams-Stirling has a compelling presence as the insolent chancer Dakin, Patrick MacNamee is totally convincing as Lockwood, and Steven Roberts, his voice, like the playwright's at that age, still with treble overtones, is a superb Posner, singing the old songs, nervously snubbing the Drummer Hodge hand of friendship, looking longingly on as Dakin lingers with Irwin …
A beautifully crafted production of a great play, with something to say to everyone, whether new bugs in the Cutlers classroom or “those returning”, as the old school hymn, has it “more faithful than before”.