The History Boys: Alan Bennett

"The History Boys" is Alan Bennett's new play about education, recently showing at the National Theatre. The play is adapted by Richard Wortley, probably the most experienced radio play producer in the country, and is performed by the original cast.

(Cast, etc: Richard Griffiths, Geoffrey Streatfield, Frances de la Tour, Clive Merrison, Samuel Anderson, Samuel Barnett, Dominic Cooper, James Corden, Sacha Dhawan, Andrew Knott, Jamie Parker, Russell Tovey. Singer Samuel Barnett; pianists Jamie Parker and Tom Attwood; producer David Hunter, director Richard Wortley.)

Before Alan Bennett started writing the play he re-read Giles Cooper's "Unman, Wittering and Zigo", first broadcast in 1958. "The History Boys" are a lot kinder than the murderous schoolboys in Cooper's play, but some of the banter between master and class is common to both plays. In Bennett's play, the boys are meant to be 17 or 18 and clever, and with the beginnings of wisdom. They are tolerant and understanding of one another, and perhaps this explains the spell which their charismatic teacher, Hector, casts over them. "They are all much more frank and tolerant of each other than I can remember me or my contemporaries being" says Bennett.

The play won an Olivier Award at the National. Richard Griffiths is Hector, the maverick motorbike-riding bachelor English teacher. Eight pupils have been selected for Oxbridge entrance. The head (Clive Merrison) brings in a coach, Irwin. Whereas Hector is passionate about the subject, Irwin is dedicated to teaching exams tricks and mirroring current arguments about what education is for.

At the heart of the play are four characters with contrating outlooks on teaching and school - an eccentric English teacher with no interest in exams, a young supply teacher who sees history as "entertainment", a traditionalist who teaches "history, not histrionics" and a headmaster obsessed with results.

Something very ususual for the director and producer was that the actors used no scripts - they'd come straight from the National. The play is being issued as part of the BBC radio collection, on two CDs, lasting about two and a half hours. Broadcast details: Radio 3, 12 Mar 06.

....I paraphrased articles in RT and the Daily Telegraph and spoke to Richard Wortley before writing the above...... (ND)

    Jim's notes on this play are shown below.......

    BBC Radio 3: Drama on 3

    Broadcast: Sunday 12th March 2006 @ 7:00 p.m.

    The National Theatre's sell-out production of the 2005 Olivier Award-winning Best New Play comes to radio with Richard Griffiths in his Olivier Best Actor role.

    Set in a boys' senior school in the Eighties, "The History Boys" encapsulates many of the current arguments about the purpose of education, with Alan Bennett's characteristically witty, moving and often elegiac dialogue describing both the tussles of staffroom rivalry and the anarchy of adolescence.

    "The school gives them an education. I give them the wherewithal to resist it. Examine a boy and he is tamed already. Only examine him and you can tax him, empanel him, enlist him, interrogate him and put him in prison. You have only to grade him and you have got him."

    Griffiths plays Hector, a romantic, motorbike-riding maverick English teacher with a habit of quoting poetry, who is devoted to the passing on of knowledge and a love of literature to his beloved unruly boys. A group of eight have been selected by the league table-obsessed headmaster for the Oxbridge entry examination. The wry Mrs. Lintott supplies the more traditional book-learning approach, but the headmaster has also hired a young supply teacher, Irwin, who is the polar opposite of Hector, to coach the boys in the clever tricks of exam-taking and interviews. There is a fundamental clash between the passion of Hector and the cynicism of Irwin at the centre of the piece. Around this swirls a broader look at styles and philosophies of teaching, suffused with the very human, and often comic, stories of the boys as they pursue sex, sport and the much sought-after places at university.

    Adapted for radio by Richard Wortley from Nicholas Hytner's National Theatre production of "The History Boys" by Alan Bennett, first performed on stage on 18th May 2004 in Lyttelton, and is performed by the original cast.

    With Richard Griffiths [Hector], Frances de la Tour [Mrs. Lintott], Geoffrey Streatfeild [Irwin], and Clive Merrison [The Headmaster]. The 6th Form History Boys: Sacha Dhawan [Akthar], Samuel Anderson [Crowther], Dominic Cooper [Dakin], Andrew Knott [Lockwood], Samuel Barnett [Posner], Russell Tovey [Rudge], Jamie Parker [Scripps], and James Corden [Timms].

    Samuel Barnett (solo singer); Jamie Parker and Tom Attwood (pianists)

    Produced by David Hunter.

    Directed by Richard Wortley

    150 min.

Nigel Deacon / Diversity website.

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