An unruly bunch of bright, funny sixth-form boys in pursuit of sex, sport and a place at university. A maverick English teacher at odds with the young and shrewd supply teacher. A headmaster obsessed with results; a history teacher who thinks he’s a fool.
In Alan Bennett’s classic play, staff room rivalry and the anarchy of adolescence provoke insistent questions about history and how you teach it; about education and its purpose.
This, I have to say, is a play that has grown on me after I’ve already finished reading it. Whilst reading the actual thing, I thought, “Huh. What is Bennett doing this time?”
After reading it, I thought, “Huh. Well that was what he was doing.”
Bennett is a really witty writer, but also a clever one, and to be honest with you there is nothing better than that. He is a writer I am newly discovering, but very much enjoying!
His boys were, I felt, kind of interchangeable in some places, perhaps because they are so used to each other in their classroom, but they all kind of mingled. I felt like there was an underrepresentation of women, but this was in an all-boys school. The teachers were kind of all eccentric but I would say the three stereotypical types of teachers you’re going to find at a school (plus the headmaster):
Firstly, you have Hector who is a brilliant teacher but a little too, uh, fond of the students. I don’t know how he was allowed to teach! He was fascinating, though.
Secondly, you have Irwin, who takes something and changes it so you’re looking at the same thing completely differently. I have to admit that I will be trying to change my own way of thinking to be more like this because it just makes everything so much more interesting. Irwin reminded me a lot of Robin Williams’ character in Dead Poets Society. He also reminded me a lot of one of my college English teachers. (That’s a compliment.)
Thirdly, you have Mrs Lancett, who is the type of teacher that just says, “Fuck it,” and everyone loves her because she’s actually really clever but just doesn’t give a shit at the same time. She also reminded me a lot of one of my college English teachers…
And then you have the headmaster, who is just focussed on results.
The boys I thought were actually less interesting than the teachers. I think that if I watched the play, they would be more involved in my mind, especially as of course they are the main parts, but to be honest they just didn’t interest me as much and I wasn’t as involved in their storylines. I confused them quite a lot (apart from Posner and Dakin, and Scripps) too, so that didn’t really help.
Overall? I actually really enjoyed this play, especially once I got through the first few pages and actually began to understand it. I would absolutely love to see it, either on stage or the film.
TITLE: The History Boys
AUTHOR: Alan Bennett
PUBLISHER//YEAR OF PUBLICATION: Faber & Faber // 2004
NUMBER OF PAGES: 109
PERSONAL SOURCE: Bought from a charity shop