The History Boys

Definition

Theater

  • Alan Bennett's witty, multi-award winning play about the nature andpurpose of education. Directed by Bennett's long-time collaborator NicholasHytner, The History Boys enjoyed a sell-out run at the NationalTheatre (2004) before touring nationally and transferring to Broadway, where it becamea huge surprise hit. The cast included Richard Griffiths as the maverick teacherHector, Frances de la Tour as Mrs Lintott, and Stephen Campbell Moore as Tom Irwin.The History Boys' tally of six Tony Awards - including best play, best director,and best actor (Griffiths) - equalled the record set by Death of a Salesmanin 1949. A screen version, directed by Hytner and featuring most of the originalcast, was released in 2006.

    The play, which is set in a northern grammar school at some point in the 1980s,examines competing philosophies of education and life. Determined to get eight of his brightest boys through the Oxbridge entrance exam, the ambitious results-driven headmaster hires a young supply teacher, Tom Irwin, to give them special coaching. Cleverly, Irwin shows the boys how to play the system by using glib, provocative arguments to grab the examiners' attention. This approach brings him into conflict with both Mrs Lintott (Frances de la Tour), who insists on the importance of facts ("history, not histrionics"), and Hector (Richard Griffiths), a sloppy, wayward, and inspirational figure who despises the exam system and takes the unfashionable view that "all knowledge is precious, whether or not it serves the slightest human use". The play cuts backwards and forwards in time to reveal the fates of the main characters. Hector is sacked when his penchant for fondling the olderboys (who seem quite untraumatized) threatens a scandal. Irwin becomes a famous TV historian and, eventually, a government spin doctor but has to deal with his own personal tragedy.

    In both London and New York the play made news when Richard Griffiths stepped out of character to admonish members of the audience whose mobile phones had gone off (and, in one case, to have the offender ejected).

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