REVIEW: History Boys mix strong humour with even stronger language

The History Boys at the Grand Theatre until Saturday
The History Boys at the Grand Theatre until Saturday
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Any worries Alan Bennett’s masterwork may have lost some of its satirical bite after 11 years are smoothly dismissed in this shrewd revival.

The writer’s most political and personal play is bound to resonate at a 
time when the education system braces itself for an election that could bring 
yet another ideological revision.

Meantime it remains a work full of life and learning and a worthy choice as the nation’s favourite in a poll carried out last year.

At its heart is the old argument about whether education should be about lighting a fire or filling a bucket.

With Bennett though there’s always ambiguity and a particular strength of Kate Saxon’s direction is that ‘bucket-filling’ 
teacher Irwin (Mark Field) is less icily aloof than in other productions, and we’re invited to feel just a little 
sympathy for his role in getting eight sixth formers on their way to Oxbridge degrees.

Old hands like Richard Hope, as the anarchic teacher Hector, or Susan 
Twist, the more moderating Mrs Lintott, turn in terrific performances, the latter barely recognisable from her more downtrodden roles around the region’s theatres.

Above all though this is play that mixes in strong humour, and occasionally stronger language, in a way that Bennett manages to make look easy.

The original staging, at the National Theatre, did no harm to the early careers of James Corden, Dominic Cooper or Russell Tovey.

On this latest showing it will also not harm the prospects of its young, exuberant cast, several of them not long out of acting school.

It runs until Saturday, at the Grand Theatre, and is highly recommended.

David Upton