The History Boys -
Lancaster Grand Theatre
It’s about a year ago that Footlights, the resident acting company and owners of Lancaster’s Grand Theatre, made a significant change to their outlook and repertoire by staging Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers with a young and highly-capable cast and production team.
That success was followed last week by their production of Alan Bennett’s multiple award-winning play of 2004, The History Boys.
Powerfully and convincingly directed by Marian Cox and her assistant Ellie Singleton, and using a straightforward yet flexible set, the action followed the fortunes of a group of eight pupils at a 1980s Northern boys’ grammar school from ‘A’-levels right through to their Oxbridge applications.
Also central to the narrative were the maverick teachers Hector, played by Peter Sampson), Irwin (Matthew Hankin) and Mrs Lintott (Christine Burn), under the ineffectual guidance of the headmaster (Stuart Langhorne).
But, on this occasion at least, they were not to be the focus of the tremendous dramatic impact of this production.
Credit is, of course, due to Bennett’s sparkling, erudite and earthy dialogue; but the real triumph lay in the way the eight lads marvellously demonstrated the natural, disruptive and witty as well as intelligent rapport between them.
Each snide comment, pointed quip and flippant throwaway came across both clearly and sotto voce.
So true to life was this that the whole effect was to transport me back vividly to my own learning and teaching experiences.
Seemingly impromptu naturalism such as this is rarely seen on stage.
Harry Powell (Posner) on the dictionary and Nick Haughton (Dakin) on the make deserve particular mention for their characterisations.
With superb diction, good staging and evocative movement, Bennett’s masterly piece came across, with only a couple of minor flaws, as a wonderfully moving show.
After this second youthful success, Footlights must continue to develop its younger performing potential; it’s the only way forward for any arts group.
by Michael Nunn