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Thursday, July 7, 2011


(Pic by Suzy Bernstein: The History Boys - Matthew Lotter, Marcel Richards and Asher Stoltz with David Schlachter, Clyde Berning, and Jeremy Richard with Gopala Chetty and Roberto Pombo)

Beautifully written, skilfully directed and superbly performed, Pieter Toerien’s 500th production is a definite must! (Review by Caroline Smart)

Pieter Toerien has done it again, in scooping the rights for the South African production of what is considered to be Alan Bennett’s finest play, The History Boys. This is an apt celebration of his 500th production which marks a period in which he has consistently produced high quality theatre and provided employment for tens of thousands of people from directors and actors to technicians and carpenters.

In association with the National Arts Festival, Pieter Toerien presents the South African premiere of this production which has won no less than 30 major awards and is currently being performed at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.

The action takes place in Cutlers Grammar School in Sheffield in the north of England in the 1980’s where a history teacher is trying to keep his lively group of mostly working-class boys under some form of control as they prepare for entrance exams that will determine whether or not they will gain entrance to the elite world of Oxford and Cambridge.

The cast is headed by the rock-solid experience of long-term established actors Graham Hopkins (Hector), Michael Richard (Headmaster), Louise Saint-Clare (Mrs Lintott) and Theo Landey (Irwin). Representing a wave of new South African acting talent, the boys are played by Clyde Berning (Daykin), David Schlachter (Scripps), Matthew Lotter (Lockwood), Gopala Chetty (Akhthar), Asher Stoltz (Rudge), Roberto Pombo (Posner), Jeremy Richard (Timms) and Marcel Richards (Crowther).

Hector has a good relationship with the boys although he has a tendency to whack them on the head when he thinks they’re being inane. His classes, which include much ribaldry and joshing, could be conducted in French, accompanied by a song or include a Guess the Movie sequence. A lover of compound adjectives, he also likes giving certain boys a lift home as pillion on his motorbike. However, this questionable behaviour is discovered and his future as a teacher at Cutlers is threatened. Michael Richard’s vocal power comes to the fore as the Headmaster rages against the causes of his frustration.

Enter Irwin, a young teacher not much older than the boys themselves, to share classes with Hector and pursue the Headmaster’s desire to elevate the level of the school by gaining Oxford and Cambridge scholarships. He’s calm, unruffled and encourages the boys to express themselves more controversially, thereby raising Hector’s objections. The boys end up in a quandary, not knowing which teacher to follow.

A major roleplayer in all this is the languid Daykin who is dating the Headmaster’s secretary so knows exactly what’s going on everywhere. Skilfully and sensitively directed, there is an achingly beautiful scene where Daykin and Irwin come face to face with their feelings for each other.

As always Alan Bennett’s writing is sheer delight in its provocative and energised style. This exploration of the politics of education is no exception and the cast pay full justice to it. If this production comes anywhere near you, don’t miss it! – Caroline Smart