I always approach new stagings of The History Boys with caution. It is one of my favourite plays and so naturally I am a little protective. Thankfully, the production I witnessed in Wadham’s Moser Theatre did the original script a great deal of justice – the show was full of the necessary energy and wit. Set in the 1980s, the play follows a group of school boys as they prepare for the Oxford and Cambridge entrance exams, under the guidance of some unconventional teachers. The History Boys is a story which feels particularly pertinent as a university student, since the audience is left to contemplate the value of education, and think critically about the state of the British system.
The cast were what made this performance great. I was initially hesitant to embrace what appears to have been a gender-blind casting, but as I watched the show I could see that each role had been filled by the right actor. The History Boys is full of big personalities and I must commend the actors who took on the roles of Hector (Jack Doyle) and Irwin (Kavya Deshpande): these are difficult characters to get right, but the two actors did a brilliant job capturing their nuances. Kat Collison also did a great job as Mrs Lintott – the feminist antidote to an otherwise testosterone fuelled story.
I am pleased to say that the show was funny. There was the odd moment of misjudged comic timing, but on the whole the cast delivered the show’s more light-hearted moments with vigour and enthusiasm. This was well balanced with the moments of pathos and reflection in the story. The set was a little unimaginative, consisting simply of some wooden desks and chairs. The clunky bits of furniture made scene changes feel a bit laborious and at times this broke up the flow of the production. In light of the wonderful cast, however, I feel that the uninspired staging did not hamper my satisfaction in the performance. Moreover, I feel like the production delivered in other aspects: for example, the lighting design was subtle but effective.
For those who have enjoyed The History Boys in the past I can reassure you that this production will live up to expectations. For those who are new to the story, I recommend you check out this production which delivers a superb combination of poignancy and comedy.