History Boys

I’m a bit behind the times. I actually saw this play last week and I’ve not yet blogged about it even though I did rave about it a bit through the week. It was a funny and thought provoking play about a group of sixth form boys at a Sheffield school. We were introduced to them through their General Studies class with Hector and old iconoclastic teacher who loves the classics, particularly another old bugger, Auden. He gives the boys lifts home on his motorbike and feels them up on the way home. The boys aren’t traumatised by this, in fact they vie for his attention and are very fond of him. Hector teaches the boys to love poetry and classic literature and even teaches them French, much to the disgust of the Head teacher who is unable to quantify Hector’s teaching and so brings in a much more educationally acceptable teacher Irwin (Matthew Newton) who knows how to get the boys to pass their final exams and get into the much coveted Oxford University.
Alan Bennett shows his scorn for this character by giving him a job on BBC2 after having him fall of Hector’s bike because he ‘leant the wrong way’.
The boys are the wittiest bunch and wryly observe the goings on at the school. They are resilient survivors who show us that teachers don’t really understand them (with the possible exception of Hector). They are confident and accepting of one another.
The educational debate threaded through the play is particularly apt at the moment given the governmental concern for quantifying everything that teachers do and the possibility of performance pay for teachers who ‘value add’. Irwin would get paid under this system as he could be percieved to have taught them how to pass the exams and get into Oxford; Hector would not get paid even though his is the spine that exists in the body of their knowledge and his teaching will continue to support their love of learning. Get that Julie Bishop!
This is a must see play if you are at all interested in education, learning (yes, they are separate things) and like a good laugh. The funniest scene was the French scene where the boys were using the subjunctive to wish for what all 18 year old boys wish for. The head teacher enters the room and the boys become wounded soldiers crying ‘Aidez moi!’ . They clearly do not need help as they frolic around the room, one trouserless. At several times the audience was convulsed by the wit threaded through the play and it is one that will stay with you for quite some time, much like Hector’s teaching I suspect.

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