The History Boys
Made in Colchester
Mercury Theatre, Colchester
Wednesday 5th June 2013
The original National Theatre production of Alan Bennett's play, about a group of post A-Level schoolboys preparing for interviews at the Oxbridge colleges, starred the late Richard Griffiths and has launched glittering careers for many of the unknown boys from that original cast and subsequent film version - Dominic Cooper, Russell Tovey, Jamie Parker, Samuel Barnett, James Corden - names that are now gracing our theatres and television screens on both side of the Atlantic. An endearing script captures a point in time for these young men, and the teachers who in their own unconventional styles manage to inspire them.
Daniel Buckroyd, Artistic Director of the Mercury still in his first season, directs this excellent in-house production following his memorable success with The Hired Man earlier this year. The ideally cast group of fresh faced young men playing the university hopefuls produced some fantastically entertaining performances and most importantly generated a feeling of camaraderie and friendship on stage that is so key to the success of this play - especially prevalent during the hilarious French scene.
Scott Arthur was joyously self-confident as the arrogant Dakin, with intelligence, charm, wit and good-looks in abundance and the ego to match. Hanging off his every word as he gazed longingly across the crowed classroom Phillip Labey was heart-wrenchingly sweet as love-struck Posner, with a smooth singing voice that was especially touching during "Bye Bye Blackbird". Max Gallagher also stood out as the religious voice of reason with his versatile portrayal of piano-playing Scripps. Their teacher Hector, played with constant energy by Stephen Ley, is their unconventional inspiration, teaching them how to be better, more rounded citizens rather than solely aiming them at the immediate goal of university places like his far younger colleague Irwin (an excellently composed performance from Freddie Machin).
The staging of this piece was key to the overall feeling of a top-quality professional production. The revolving set design to allow for fast, smooth location changes, the names of past boys scrawled across the tops of the walls representing the rolling stream of students these rooms and teachers see and inspire each year. The detail of the lighting effects; slatted blinds in the Headmaster's Office, window muntins in the old-fashioned classrooms; help to evoke memories of the institutions we all remember and were effectively executed here with subtlety and precision.
An inspirational, life-affirming play, capturing a positive angle on the lives of late-teenage youths. How fortunate the people of Colchester are to have such high quality theatre on their doorsteps. This Made in Colchester production is another fantastic example of the exceptional progress being made at the Mercury, and long may it continue.