Sunday, 25 March 2012

History Boys proves top class

The History Boys at Keswick Theatre (March  24 to April 21 2012)
Review by Alan Cleaver

Peter Rylands as Hector
IT must be frustrating for all concerned when Keswick Theatre schedule a play for a four-week run - but on the first night realise it's such an obvious smash hit that they should have left it running all summer!

So grab a ticket quick. History Boys is only at Keswick until April 21 and if you don't book quickly you'll miss out on a real treat.

The Alan Bennett play is directed by Ian Forrest and stars Peter Rylands as Hector the inspirational teacher  clashing with the grammar school's headmaster, a new teacher and changing times. Peter falls easily into the role, having played Alan Bennett in Keswick's production of Lady in the Van. At times he slips into 'Alan Bennett' mode but that's no bad thing. Bennett's dry humour is brought to life by Rylands and the rest of the cast as Hector's view on the world and his teaching methods is contrasted with a modern desire of headmaster (Robert Pickavance) to get the History Boys of the title into Oxford or Cambridge. Helping them is another Keswick favourite, Kieran Buckeridge, playing new graduate teacher, Irwin.

The boys - an elite class of eight students - pull off a show-stopping performance all of their own. A variety of antics, songs and dances are used to great effect adding to the warmth and charm of this production. And while all perform superbly, Meilir Rhys Williams has to be singled out for his delightful solo performances. It would aslo be remiss not to mention Mitchell Hunt for his electrifying portrayal of cock-sure Dakin. Oh dear, now I feel I should name them all as all the performances are top notch - so here's the rest: Jack Brown, Andy Daniel, Phil Duguid-McQuillan, Greg Herst, Freddie Rogers and Phil Adele.

It is the boys that the audience are cheering on, but it's Hector who is the jewel in this show. Rylands is following in the footsteps of Richard Griffiths' award-winning portrayal in the play and later film of The History Boys but Rylands makes this his own. Inspirational teachers have become something of a cliche in the world of the arts and yet Rylands wows us all once more with a warm and sincere performance. It is, of course, a vehicle for Alan Bennett to show off his literary knowledge and his humour but director Ian Forrest ensures this is a visual feast as well as a mental one. 

The show's only woman - Mrs Lintott played by Maria Gough - is a breath of fresh air and Robert Pickavance as the headmaster is the loveable villain of the piece.

This is a terrific night's entertainment but you'll need to be quick to get a ticket.

Box Office is 017687 74411. Be aware there is strong language in this play.