The History Boys at Chichester Festival Theatre

The cast of The History Boys
The cast of The History Boys
Poet and author Benjamin Zephaniah

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The new touring production of Alan Bennett’s masterpiece sometimes seems as shallow as the play itself is deep and multi-layered.

It is not that director Christopher Luscombe lacks good ideas. The momentum is admirable, re-inforced by pulsing music for rapid scene-changes, and the use of Chichester’s revolve diminishes the danger of the action becoming static.

No, the problem lies essentially in some of the acting in the adult roles.

The play is principally about different views of the role of education: is it to pass exams or to prepare students for life?

Bennett strikes a careful balance between the two views but here it is difficult to have any sympathy with the results-minded head and his new young teacher – simply because the actors play them lifelessly.

In the role of the flawed Hector, created by Richard Griffiths at the National Theatre, Philip Franks is not lifeless – at times, indeed, he is almost manic in his showiness. And he is genuinely moving when the character’s personal crisis strikes.

But the portrayal does not hang together.

The boys who discover how easy it is to make things happen, and so change history, are played by young adults recently graduated from drama school.

They look their parts well enough and have huge fun with the Brief Encounter re-enactment, the Wish Me Luck number and other set-pieces. George Banks (Dakin) and Rob Delaney (Posner) are obvious candidates for successful careers. Yet, at times, the production is almost as flat as Chichester Harbour.

Until next Saturday.