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The History Boys by Alan Bennett

I suppose my expectations were pitched too high from the beginning. It is an erudite superior play...

Published on November 2nd 2005.


The History Boys by Alan Bennett

The first problem is anticipation. Direct from a sell out run at the National Theatre and prior to its Broadway transfer the immediate requirement is to manage expectation.

So much praise, so many awards and complete unanimity amongst all the critics that here is a masterpiece, blissfully funny, a profound piece,intelligent, witty and at times, hilarious and they are only a small selection of random quotes.

I suppose my expectations were pitched too high from the beginning. It is an erudite superior play. It has wit, some humour but is also condescending, an intellectual in-joke where the mention of Bristol or ‘heaven forfend’ Nottingham Universities raises a great laugh.

The play is sold out for the week. On its first night I estimate the audience had at least 10,000 ‘O’ level, 6000 ‘A’ Levels and 4000 first degrees between them. They were joined by many post graduates and other academics. They made a marvellous mutual admiration society where jokes about Oxbridge, the Manchester Grammar School and other academic minutiae helped bond the likeminded audience to the play and to each other.

The play possesses little general appeal put certainly panders to that snobbish class thing which marks out the average Englishman and his prejudiced view of education. I fear many of the critics rushing to overwhelm the play with praise were part of such inner superior group.

I felt uncomfortable. The reaction of the audience made me think of the Emperors New Clothes. In the mass of critical acclaim how might one question such a piece.

Excellently acted by an accomplished cast Desmond Barrit stands out as ‘Hector ‘ the traditional English teacher. The play has interesting things to say about education and its purpose. My concern is that in cloaking it with so many remote or coded references the general theatre-goer loses the proper meaning of the message .

Richard Burbage

The Lyric Theatre
The Lowry Tuesday
1st – Saturday 5th November
Box Office 0870 787 5790www.thelowry.com

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