‘The History Boys’- Harrogate Theatre. Wednesday 25th May.
This was a titter-inducing small scale performance with some nice set ideas but ultimately, it was lacking in spark; not quite managing to shake the am-dram feel despite performing on the main stage rather than in the studio.
Casting was a strength, with commendable performances by the young cast of teenage boys. Standouts for the boys were David McCabe as the narcissistic and irritatingly charismatic Dakin, and Naail Ishaq as the amorous and melodious Posner. Standouts aside from the boys themselves were Chris Cowling and Alisha Reilly. Cowling did a great job of making Hector funny and likeable; not an easy task considering the hyper-awareness and sensitivity of modern audiences regarding anything relating to his particular brand of misconduct. Alisha Reilly was very endearing as the wise and long-suffering female in this male- dominated school. It’s safe to say that the cast’s performances were the strongest aspect of this production; the relationships which are at the core of Bennett’s play were pleasingly believable. There were also plenty of comedic moments to keep the audience engaged and crucially, those beloved, well known scenes of the ‘French lesson’ and film re-enactments were definite highlights.
The set design was surprisingly high value for a production of this scale. The use of levels to present three rooms at once, rather than having to tackle constant set changes was a wise one considering my biggest gripe. The problem for me was that stylistically, the production lacked any real flair or originality; the constant entrances for each new day and lesson very quickly became monotonous (and I suspect not by design) as there was no real variety or interesting approach. There were some classic 80s hits to tap toes to between ‘days’ but I couldn’t help feeling that they could have done more. A production doesn’t have to have West End scale to have flair; it just needs some ambition! It was unfortunately the case that while the cast did a great job for the most part, there were times when the shine fell away and better, more active direction would have improved the overall feel; it very nearly could have felt like a small company production as opposed to local am-dram, which is a shame.
However, credit where it is due; as it stands, this is an enjoyable low-key production of a much-loved Bennett classic. Would I see another THDS production? Yes. Though I’d like to see something with a little more bravery and style to it…