M&D rooms, 4,7,8 March
The latest offering from Exeter University’s Theatre Company saw the third-year drama student and experienced director Katie Goodsell tackling one of Alan Bennett’s (and the Nation’s) best-loved plays. Telling the story of a group of eight boys who, after excellent A-Level results, return to school in order to prepare for their entrance exams to Oxbridge, it is a witty and thought-provoking coming of age story, in which more is learnt than inside the confines of the classroom. Admittedly it is hard to go awry with source material as flawless as Bennett’s, nevertheless this does ensure a production such as this is all the more highly anticipated, and disastrous should it go wrong.
With understated set design and a complementary eighties soundtrack, it is the cast who are deservedly required to shine in this production. And shine they do with the professionalism and talent of all those concerned blazing through in scene after scene. The true success of this play rests on the strength of the cast as an ensemble, in which this production delivers in spades. The rapport between the company of eight students and four teachers is flawless, and pace of this challenging script excellently judged, with particular standout performances from Luca Owenbridge as Scripps (who plays the piano himself) and Eoin McAndrew as Posner, whose solos are melancholic and mesmerising in equal measure.
Similarly, Jack Sheeren delivers as a deliciously insipid school-master, and a staggeringly mature performance from Anya Williams as Mrs Lintott ensures she holds her own in this male-dominated cast. Ieuan Coombs is equally believable and impressive in the complicated character of Irwin. But it was Aiden Cheng that was a true revelation in the challenging role of Hector, channelling the late Richard Griffiths’ original performance beautifully, whilst still managing to make the role decidedly his own.
The performance was a joy to witness from start to finish, with the star moments of comedy perfectly placed to offset the more serious and thought-provoking aspects of Bennett’s script, whilst importantly never detracting from the intelligence of the performance. With no cuts made to the original source material, the performance clocks in at a little over two hours, yet the sheer quality of the production leaves you yearning for a third act. Tickets sold out early, and a change of venue occurred to accommodate public demand, one can certainly understand why: EUTCo’s The History Boys is an excellent example of how near pitch-perfect a university production can be.
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