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The History Boys

I normally like to go to the theatre in the evenings, as it makes it more of an occasion. These days, however, it’s too tiring to stay up so late; I’m normally in bed by 10pm, if I can even last that long. It seems a shame to give up on theatre trips, though, when the theatre in Malvern gets such a good range of visiting companies. A matinĂ©e is a perfect compromise. We have a nice lunch at a local restaurant, and then toddle off to the theatre. In a way it’s even better to go to the matinĂ©e, as the gap between lunch and the afternoon performance is significantly longer than that between an early dinner and the evening performance, meaning the meal can be much more leisurely.

The West Yorkshire Playhouse’s production of The History Boys, by Alan Bennett, was today’s treat. It is nominally the story of eight boys preparing for their Oxbridge entrance exam in the 1980s. Really, it is an exploration of the purpose education, comparing their popular teacher Hector’s “education for education’s sake” against Irwin’s “training to be eye-catching” and the Headmaster’s “teaching what is measurable”. Caught is the middle is Mrs Lintott’s attitude that learning the facts and presenting them clearly ought to be enough. The Headmaster is ambitious, and engages Irwin to teach the Oxbridge boys to do well in their entrance exam, which appalls Hector, who finds his methods flashy and journalistic. The field of battle between Hector and Irwin is the boys themselves. By the end of the play we see that one of them has won the battle (I won’t say which, so as not to spoil the plot), but it isn’t clear that the victory is worth the effort.

The play was very funny, for all the seriousness of its theme. For example, Mrs Lintott says of her time at University:

Durham was very good for history. It’s where I had my first pizza. Other things too, of course, but it’s the pizza that stands out.

Not only was the play funny, it resonated with both Gillian and me. We both took the Oxford entrance exam in the 1980s, and a lot of the music that was played brought back strong memories of our own times in school. As an engineer and a mathematician respectively, however, our experience was very different from the History Boys’. All in all, however, we really enjoyed the play, and found it thought provoking too. It provided us with much conversation over dinner, and prompted this blog post, so I have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone who can get to see it as the company tours Britain. You won’t regret it.

Everything can be argued both ways..absolutely everything

{ 2 } Comments

  1. Frosty | 18 April 2010 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    Haven’t seen the play but absolutely love the film and the music!!!

  2. icyjumbo | 18 April 2010 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    We enjoyed the film too, which was why we thought the play would be worthwhile. Posner and Scripps did a great job with the music yesterday, too.