Christina Riley reviews the much-anticipated production of The History Boys.
Mermaids staged its first Byre production of the semester with Harrison Roberts’ rendition of The History Boys by Alan Bennett. A highly anticipated show, the cast performed to a sold-out theatre; the Byre was buzzing with excitement as eager viewers waited to take their seats. The audience received the cast well as they gave a steady performance throughout. However, the three-hour length was felt and part of the second half felt lost due to the classroom nature of the play, which at times seemed more like a lecture. Despite this, the culminating scenes injected new life into the play, evoking a mixture of emotions from its viewers.
Ed Polsue as Hector gave a captivatingly raw performance with the audience hanging on his every word. Commanding their attention and support despite the controversial flaw in his character, Polsue was a standout performer. He assumed the role well and brought Hector to life every moment he was onstage. His comedic French scene with Ed Prendergast [Posner], Tom Caruth [Timms] and Louis Catliff [Dakin], was a skilful and entertaining performance, the audience lapping it up despite the language barrier. Tone, expression and body language was rehearsed down to the finest detail which both cast and director deserve to be commended for. The scene’s reception showcased the cast’s high calibre of acting as for much of the audience, language did not have to be understood for it to be enjoyed.
Sebastian Allum also made use of physicality in his performance as Irwin. A reluctance to make eye contact, except with his stage counterparts, and his closed body language alienated the audience in order to influence their perception of him. As the plot unfolded, so did Irwin’s vulnerability which Allum played on. His shy, jumper-pulling character became loveable with an endearing yet hesitant smile and a visible blush; a somewhat boring persona thus transformed into an alluring one.
The only female voice of the play was Hannah Ritchie as Mrs Lintott. A strong and believable performance, her role refused to be overlooked. Ritchie’s openness with the audience evoked a sense of kinship with her character. Thus, she became a physical reflection of the audience onstage, torn between disgust for a molesting teacher, and an involuntary need to like him. The serious and derisive tone she upheld throughout the play never wavered, but through body language she expressed the conflicting nature of the characters’ and the audience’s feelings towards Hector.
Overall the crew did a fantastic job in casting as each actor suited their roles perfectly; the spectrum of personalities mixed well into a cohesive and mesmerising blend. A minimal stage ensured the attention focused on the plot and talent of the cast and crew. Hilarious, jarring and moving, the cast’s performance of The History Boys was spectacular; a truly authentic show which radiated a compelling boyish charm.
STARS: * * * *
Photos by Grace Thorner