Sunday’s performance of The History Boys at St Paul’s College was an evening characterised by two things: excessive humidity, and a thoroughly entertaining play. Mummers is the recently-revived theatre society at St Paul’s, and The History Boys was chosen for the group’s 2015 major production.
Despite being an amusing and light-hearted play, The History Boys doesn’t shy away from exploring some dark themes; the play raises concerns about the role of authority in sexual abuse and even touches on the Holocaust. But primarily its strengths lie in what it has to say about modern education. The clash between love-of-knowledge-for-its-own-sake and learning-just-to-pass-the-test styles of teaching is exemplified in two of the story’s characters, Hector and Irwin. Hector attempts to teach the pupils about literature and life, while Irwin is hired merely to move the school up the academic league table. I think students today identify far too much with Irwin’s cynical, results-focused attitude to teaching, and The History Boys is a good reminder of where the priorities of many education administrators lie: in teaching students to do well on an exam.
Performances by most of the cast were largely solid, but a special mention can be made to John-Patrick Asimakis as Hector and Jeremy Richmond as Posner. I loved Asimakis’ melancholy as Hector, which was nicely juxtaposed by Richmond’s uplifting singing. These two were very suitably cast in their roles, and their performances were especially enjoyable. The rest of the cast also gave good performances, with a few members sporting nicely-polished accents. Whilst not all lines were delivered terribly convincingly, such as some delivered right before the black-out at the end of each scene, this minor deficit was made up for by the energy of the performers elsewhere. The odd roll of thunder – which, by chance, came exactly at the right time – also made for a wonderful atmosphere during some dramatic scenes.
Technical aspects of the production were well conceived. The set design was faithful to the film and I had fun trying to name many of the historical figures plastered on the back wall throughout the interval. Despite being small, the space proved more than adequate. My only criticism of the lighting was that sometimes, upon changing the lights, an audible clicking noise was heard. Short scenes with punchy transition music made for a good way to keep up the pace in a play that demanded it, and I highly commend Eli Clibbon for his role as director in this wonderful production.
Well done to all those involved in Mummers’ performance of The History Boys. The audience enjoyed themselves a lot. And so did I.