Review: History teaches many tales as laid out in History Boys

The History Boys. Picture by Matt Martin Photography
The History Boys. Picture by Matt Martin Photography

The History Boys, Sell A Door Theatre Co. at Belgrade Theatre until February 7

The History Boys is Alan Bennett’s masterpiece about sex, snobbery and the meaning of education.

Set in a nondescript public school, it concerns a group of boys who have by some miracle achieved excellent A-level results, good enough to give them a crack at the Oxbridge entrance exam.

This places them in the firing line of two very different educational philosophies: the old-fashioned slightly romantic notion, epitomised by Hector (Richard Hope), that education is a good thing in its own right and knowledge is valuable regardless of its application.

The other is that education is a game to be mastered; a sport almost, in which there are winners and losers.

The battle ground is nothing less than history itself: what is it; what does it tell us and what do we do with it?

Hector has created in his classes a kind of forum that would have been familiar to the ancient Greeks.

Debate is wide ranging conversation and references are free and intelligent.

But there is a flaw. Hector, though far from predatory, has more than a tutelary fondness for his boys.

The cast of this lively performance has a fine pedigree and is a class in itself of how to do this sort of thing well.

But if we feel more uneasy at Hector’s ‘innocent’ fumblings now than when it was first produced, there are aspects of his teaching that cannot be so easily dismissed. History contains many flawed heroes, and he is one of them.

Rating 9/10

By Nick Le Mesurier