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4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 2 March 2005
The latest play from Alan Bennet proves both funny, thought-proking and currently hugely successful at the NT. The characters are all beautifully created and lovable, from the confused homosexual youth Posner to the stressed, icy Headmaster, obsessed with league tables and results. The witty one liners and amusing comments,especially from Mrs Lintott, contribute to an extremely funny backdrop to a deeply serious play, where the issues of the purpose of education, homosexuality and the inevitable competition of youth are addressed and debated. The "History Boys" themselves successfully represent the thousands of hopeful Oxbridge candidates each year, all of them experiencing the highs and the lows of studying and the joy of learning, making this play a timeless jem.
The teacher Hector, whom Richard Griffiths is currently portraying with great conviction at the NT, is intellectually brilliant and extremely impressive, and yet, he is just a fallible human being with temptations and desires that finally get the better of him. This point is so tragic and powerful it evokes great sympathy from the reader and adds to the effectiveness of the play.
A thoroughly enjoyable play to light up both the stage and the mind. It is one of the rare plays that you feel you can watch time and time again, learning something new each time.
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on 7 April 2006
I saw The History Boys on their Australian tour and since it was sold out and I could not see it again I had to buy this audio version to satisfy my desire.
I'm not sure that all of the magic of the stage production is able to carry through to an audio play, but it is good listen anyway.
It is an incredibly witty piece of entertainment, thoroughly enjoyable, and reminded me so much of my own school memories of the all boys school I went to. The struggle between the two intelligent school teachers - Irwin and Hector - over the souls of the boys they teach could perhaps appear unlikely to those who missed out on having such teachers, but it reflects my experience as well. Bennett wavers (or seems to) between taking sides in their not unimportant dispute, but (or therefore?) is good enough of a writer or human being not to load the dice in the favour of one over the other.
More superficially: Samuel Barnett (my favourite) sings and acts wonderfully, all the boys are mischievously fun, and the cast is all round excellent.
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on 28 May 2006
I have seen the History Boys twice at the National Theatre, the first time with the cast that appears on this BBC CD recording. Bennett has produced a gem of a play, dark in places of course but full of light and shade especially when the ensemble cast are fully in their stride. The musical interludes are a joy and the CD version gives full rein to the superb Richard Griffiths. One can only really appreciate this play in full by experiencing the live version on stage. But for fans of Bennett, this beautifully crafted BBC radio production is one that will be taken from the CD rack on a regular basis for an evening's listening. Thoroughly recommended.
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on 1 December 2004
The play is about eight sixth-form students who are applying to oxbridge, and the teachers that help them through it. As with all plays I fully recommend seeing the (excellent) production which premiered at the National Theatre in May 2004 with Richard Griffiths as Hector.
By reading the play one discovers the questions that dictate our lives and do not appear in our education system today. Questions which really make you think about the point of literature, art, education, music and history.
Just great to read, but the jokes are much more apparent on the stage.
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Set in the 1980s in a boarding school in the north of England, this Tony Award-winner for Best Play of 2006 is a dramatic comedy in which eight young "sixth-formers" prepare for the history examinations which will determine whether they are accepted at Oxford or Cambridge. No one from their school has been accepted in the past, and the headmaster is determined that this year will be different. To this end, he hires a young teacher, Irwin, to improve the students' "presentation" so that they will stand out from the crowd with the college examiners. His goal is to teach the students to think "outside the box"--not to be dull--when they answer questions.

Irwin's mission conflicts with the goals of the English and History teachers. Hector, the motor-cycle-riding English teacher, has taught the students reams of poetry, and they readily apply it in real-life situations. He has taught the French subjunctive (though it is not his subject) by conducting the class in French and having students pretend to be negotiating at a brothel. His classes are free-wheeling, often student-directed--taking the long view and valuing education for its own sake. The History teacher, Dorothy Lintott, has taught the facts: "They know their stuff. Plainly stated and properly organized facts need no presentation, surely," she remarks to the headmaster.

As the three teachers and the headmaster perform their duties, the eight students react as teenagers everywhere react, albeit a bit more politely. They banter and feed off each other's joking remarks, tease their teachers, get bopped on the head by Hector, challenge him to identify scenes from films (which they act out), and explore their favorite subject, sex. They are bright, charming, and disingenuous, and their conversations with each other and the faculty are spirited and quick-paced, keeping the audience constantly engaged and often laughing uproariously.

Bennett, whose recognition of humor in everyday life has become more sophisticated in the years since Beyond the Fringe, balances his humor with thoughtful observations about education and its value, as he also explores the subject of war. He provides additional commentary on his themes by including brief scenes which take place much later than the primary action. The play opens fifteen years after the main action, then flashes back to school days, before flashing forward five years, later in the play, as students reveal what has happened after college, thereby broadening the scope. Laugh-out-loud funny, thoughtful, and poignant in its moments of recognition, The History Boys is theatre at its best. Mary Whipple
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on 10 August 2008
The play blends comedy with tragedy and has many layers and themes. Whilst the story is ostensibly about education and, in particular, the teaching of talented pupils on the cusp of adulthood it is also a subtle study of the human and personal relationships between teacher and pupil, pupil and pupil and teacher and teacher. Hector, the confident but eccentric, eclectic and iconoclastic history teacher is contrasted with Irwin, a generation younger than him, who is clever, confused and insecure. The boys have warmed to Hector's maverick style and methods which includes role playing and a very broad cultural range - from Gracie Fields to Housman. They tolerate Hector's fondness for fondling their genitalia when on his motor bike with equanimity clearly seeing it as a harmless foible rather than a pederastic threat.

The boys themselves are sharply contrasted and skilfully characterised. Dakin, is handsome and self-confident attracting not only the lovestruck and guilt-ridden Posner but also the Headmaster's secretary the "fair Fiona" and eventually Irwin as well. Rudge is the sporting hearty who despite his lack of overt academic competence has sufficient other qualities and connections to get him into Oxford. The play is about the "anarchy of adolescence" and whilst the fact of Hector's homosexuality runs through the story and is ultimately Hector's downfall "The History Boys" is not primarily about sex. The sexual confidence and promiscuity of Dakin and the sexual confusions of Hector, Irwin and Posner are neatly contrasted however and this theme may well be autobiographical.

The idea that culture is not sharply divided into highbrow and lowbrow is one of Hector's beliefs and he is as comfortable in the genre of Hollywood as he is in the classics. This seems to be a plea for tolerance and understanding and for the need to trawl widely in order to grow and to learn - especially early in life. The belief that in education anything goes so long as it helps the pupil's development contrasts sharply with the headmaster's wish to stick to the curriculum and to get results above all. For Hector entry to Oxbridge will (or should) come from a rounded education as much as from curriculum adherence. For Irwin the need is to play the game so that in the Oxbridge entrance exams and interviews taking the conventional line is to be avoided in favour of articulating a contrary position in order to be noticed.

The play is set in the 1980s - a time of social and political change and in a sense The History Boys is a refection of that change. The likes of Hector would never be accepted again and results driven headmasters became the norm. Bennett suggests that this is a regrettable consequence of the Thatcherite and post-Thatcherite focus in education on curriculum, standards and political-correctness.
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on 10 November 2012
Great story, well acted. Thoroughly enjoyed this production and recommend it to friends and family. No mayhem, murder, screaming, mobile phones or words like "cool" used so clearly not suitable for many... Take time out and enjoy something different and thought provoking...
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on 22 May 2004
A superb new work by this writer of brilliant things. Great observation of nuances and life, and of course great use of language.
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on 17 August 2016
What can I say? Its an Alan Bennett classic, every bit as good as the excellent film and stage play. Clever, humorous, witty, pithy, wonderfully observed characters and situations - all the things I love about Alan Bennett's work.
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on 29 June 2016
I have so much love for this play. Whether you are studying it or reading for leisure I highly recommend you purchase this book extremely affordable and its a wonderful read. One of my favourite plays I just love Alan Bennett.
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