The Shoreline production of The History Boys took place on Wednesday 7th and Thursday 8th of March. Since we had not one, but two writers go to check out the show, we thought we’d have two reviews! Read on to see what Amber Caul and Roisin O’Connor made of the performance on Wednesday 7th.
On Wednesday we attended Shoreline’s production of the The History Boys. Set in 1980’s Sheffield, it follows a group of aspiring Oxbridge candidates at a boys grammar school under the guidance of three contrasting teachers and an ambitious headmaster; but the boys learn far more than what’s on the syllabus. Using their education, they reflect upon their beliefs, sexualities and experiences; and call into question what it is to be a student.
Aptly staged in an modest hall reminiscent of the classroom, Shoreline’s set consisted of a few school desks and single, rickety door; yet this worked in their favour. The History Boys primarily focuses on words, and how they should be used. It is a play which insists on being heard, and no fanciful scenery should distract from that.
Likewise, they employed a simple lighting scheme, with the occasional spotlight given to characters with soliloquies. However, this gradually produced the effect of the endless daily repetition that is education: day in, day out. It is fitting that we only see what happens beneath the florescent lights of the class room.
The young male cast displayed a very convincing, natural bond and their background bickering and playful antics had me smiling throughout. A memorable performance came from Laurence Porter in his shy portrayal of Posner (“I’m a Jew. I’m small. I’m homosexual. And I’m from Sheffield. I’m fucked”.) Those taking on the demanding roles of the staff did an excellent job in defining their characters – particularly Nicky Jefford’s quietly amused Mrs Lintott.
In fact, you could easily make an essay out of a feminist reading of The History Boys, for the silence of it’s (largely off-stage) female cast is as telling as the boys well-placed quotes. Mrs Lintott is remarkably important – at first acting as a quiet metaphor before striking out with a monologue (“History is a commentary on the various and continuing in capabilities of men.”) The steady patience of the frustrated woman is as relevant now as it was at the time of the plays writing – all the more fitting that Shoreline also staged it on International Woman’s Day.
The conflicting roles of Irwin and Hector ask difficult questions which many students have had to face. There have been times when we might have sought, or have pushed upon us, the idea of a formula, a get-out-of-jail-free card: what criteria do I have to meet to pass the exam? The play asks us to think of what could make us distinctive instead.
With the exception of some minor lighting and sound hiccups, the performance seemed to run smoothly – no mean feat for a production with tongue-tangling quotes, a smattering of French, quick retorts and fair few songs. This is one for Shoreline to be proud of.
Shoreline’s production of the History Boys was revealed on Wednesday 7th and Thursday 8th to their audience at the Grand Theatre. Although I was eager to see the result of their hard work, I have to admit that I left the theatre feeling somewhat cheated out of what could have been an absolutely superb performance.
Joe Burnham’s Irwin occasionally leaned towards the Daniel Radcliffe side of wooden but maintained the right kind of awkwardness for the character, while Nicky Jefford as Dorothy “Totty” Lintott gave an excellent effort but lacked the fierce strength and gravitas to play the world-weary yet fearsome Dorothy “Totty” Lintott. Dominic Padfield’s performance as Hector was superb, and the headmaster and the boys themselves were mostly faithful versions of the original characters, asides from a few fluffed lines and early entrances.
Set changes were pretty horrific, with actors stumbling around in the dark to the sound of chairs scraping along the floor and tables crashing into one another. A fair few incidents occurred with the lighting but the onstage performers stayed professional when spotlights lit up in the wrong place or the entire cast was plunged into complete darkness before a character had finished speaking.
Delivery of the script was also disappointing in some of the most important moments- in particular in the classroom scenes- which fell short on the fast-paced delivery needed to convey the sharp wit of the boys and the deadpan replies from the teachers that playwright Alan Bennett is so well-known for.
There were charming moments. The singing from Laurence Porter’s Posner was surprisingly excellent, and the scene in Hector’s class where they create a French brothel was outstanding and very funny.
The overall performance from the cast was good and Shoreline should be proud of themselves for the result of six months of hard work on a script that is, admittedly, a very difficult play to get right. Despite the technical difficulties, the cast and directors obviously worked together well and succeeded in keeping their audience entertained for the whole three hours (a feat in itself); even if the most coordinated mass-movement on stage turned out to be the curtain call at the end of the show.