The History Boys – Malvern Theatres  

Marketing people use the phrase ‘must see’ with abandon these days: but with regard to this play, it’s an exhortation for anyone at all interested in education.

If you haven’t seen it, it’s about a group of lads from a Northern grammar school aiming for Oxbridge, and in the hands of two kinds of teacher, although they are not as different as they think they are. The play resonates with thoughts about the important questions: what is education? Should it be about ticking boxes, or about imparting potentially useless but life-enhancing knowledge? It’s no good saying you’ve seen the DVD because this works a thousand times better on the stage.

It’s full of careful stagecraft: the soliloquy to the audience, the spotlights, the intimate moments such as that in which the teacher and the student ponder the poem Drummer Hodge in a moment of such focused intensity that the whole audience was wholly hushed.

This production went for the simple, the whole taking place in the classroom or the corridor outside. There seem to be more modern references here and there – to things like Facebook – but it’s still of its time, the 1960s as some things were vaguer and more permissible then – groping, say.

There’s loads of satire at the expense of the pontificating Headmaster, who hates Hector’s style which he can’t quantify or categorise. His funeral oration provoked hoots of mirth; and I knew there was at least one headmaster in the audience This is Alan Bennett at his witty and satirical best.

The History Boys continues its tour until June 26.