I lived in an ecumenical Unitarian college, and one of my fellow-boarders told me he had tutorials with an extraordinary junior history lecturer who did a famous routine as a comic vicar.
It opened at the National Theatre in to rapturous reviews and audiences, and swept off to Broadway, where rapturous reviews and audiences followed in New York accents. A transfer to the West End was inevitable. Then, of course, they made the film.
And at last we get to see what the fuss is about. He writes very well indeed, with feeling and intelligence, even if - as Chris Goode points out in his acute meditation on this play - his true metier is television, not the theatre. In fact, it's one of the most purely annoying plays I've seen in a long time.
I fear that untangling my irritation will make this review very long, so be warned. You can see at once why it's been so popular. The History Boys is artfully seductive work, consciously pressing but not too hard all the buttons that signal its cultural worth, while at the same time harnessing the tried-and-true techniques of theatrical entertaining.
The bitter pill of poetry goes down here with a big dose of sugar, and the punters love it. Before I go on, let me explain that TN isn't one of those who sneer at the popular for its own sake; a goodly part of my life is spent whuffling around the louche pleasures of genre literature, and I'll be eating popcorn at Pirates of the Caribbean 3 the day it comes out.
But, in the light of the superlatives that garland this play's arrival, it's worth remembering Brecht's comment that if everybody likes a show, something must be wrong. The History Boys is set in a minor public ie, private school in northern England during the s - although it is a rather strange s, overlaid with strong overtones of the s, when Bennett himself was a student - and concerns a group of bright, working class boys.
They are the students of Hector Rhys McConnochiethe eccentric-but-loveable English teacher, and the history teacher, Mrs Lintott Deidre Rubensteina woman with a wit dryer than Melbourne's reservoirs. To bump his school up the league tables, the ambitious Headmaster Brian Lipson decides to bring in a brash young teacher, Irwin Matthew Newtonwhom he hopes will give the boys enough polish to fast-track them into the cloisters of Oxbridge.
The new teacher is awkward but charismatic, and the boys' loyalties are divided between the old and the new. This allows Bennett to put differing notions of education at loggerheads.
The conflict is between an Arnoldian notion of humanism, leavened with a bracing hostility to utilitarian ideas of culture, versus the amoral opportunists who see knowledge and education as merely a means to self-promotion and advantage. From the opening scene of the play, when a Blairite politician tells us that in order to preserve freedom we must sacrifice our liberties, it's clear that Bennett intends The History Boys to be a critique of contemporary Britain.
Hector is a familiar enough figure: Bennett's model is a little edgier than his precursors; Hector is disillusioned and flawed - he "fiddles" with the more attractive boys while scooting through town on his motorbike. He locks the door of the classroom to permit the boys to make camp re-enactments from classic Hollywood movies or - as in one of the purely funny vaudevillean scenes from the play - to practise their French by enacting scenes from a bordello.
And they all quote reams of poetry - a select bunch dominated by Hardy, Houseman and Larkin. Of which more later. The keen young blade Irwin, who is little older than the boys, offers a leaner, meaner view of culture, with a faultline of vulnerable hypocrisy - he is too intelligent not to perceive his own dishonesty.Need help with Act 1 in Alan Bennett's The History Boys?
Check out our revolutionary side-by-side summary and analysis. Alan Bennett (left) with Maggie Smith and Alex Jennings, during the filming of The Lady In The Van. Photograph: Antony Crolla In the film, there are two Alan Bennetts.
He had successful runs in Alan Bennett's "Forty Years On," Simon Gray's "The Common Pursuit" with John Sessions, Rik to have daily to reconcile apparently conflicting tensions. I want this, but need that.
which is only the same as anybody else, and that's to express our love in the fullest possible way of commitment. [on the death of.
How does Alan Bennett express conflicting views about education through his portrayal of the four teachers in «The History Boys»? In this play, the author Alan Bennett wants to convince the audience that education can be approached in many different ways.
How does Wilfred Owen express his experience of the Great War in his poem “Dulce et Decorum Est”? Dulce et Decorum Est is a well known war time poem set in the Great War, written by Wilfred Owen. How does Bennet use dramatic comedy to offer criticism of contemporary attitudes to education in The History Boys In this essay I am going to explain how Alan Bennet uses dramatic comedy to criticise the contemporary attitudes towards education in the History Boys.