The History Boys
by Alan Bennett
It was with some trepidation that I walked down Broadway Avenue early this afternoon to attend the Chicago premiere of Alan Bennett's play The History Boys presented by the TimeLine Theatre Company.
More than two years ago I fell in love with the film version of the original production which had won awards in both London and New York. While I had not seen the stage version I had read the play and was impressed with Alan Bennett's original vision which had been severely abridged for the film adaptation. I should not have entertained any doubt for, based on previous experience with great plays and performances at TimeLine, I had nothing to worry about.
The History Boys as directed by Nick Bowling makes a vibrant, exciting and ultimately moving evening of theater. The
production, with the boys' living spaces highlighting one end of the theater space and a balcony at the other end, once again shows how imaginative the set designers at TimeLine can be in using their limited space, and how successful the company is in presenting the play. Best of all is the cast, from Donald Brearley's moving portrayal of Hector, Terry Hamilton's intense imagining of the Headmaster and Ann Wakefield's sincere realization of Mrs. Lintott; and, above all, the eight effervescent boys who each individually and together as a group convey the difficulties and joy of their preparation for entrance into Oxford and Cambridge. Among the boys, for me, the performances of Will Allan as Scripps and Joel Gross as Dakin stood out as particularly persuasive. Nick Bowling's direction allowed this very literary play to seem natural, balancing the constant dialogue with attention to dramatic silences and plenty of movement in just the right proportion. I must also mention both the effective use of period music during the intervals and the overhead video screens that aided the understanding of the play through timely visuals while providing a few moments of comic relief. The presence of comic relief helped take the edge off the building erotic tension that grew slowly out of the both the complexities of relationships among the main characters and the meaning of education explored in the play. Above all the camaraderie among the boys and their teachers was clearly present throughout the play making the emotions at the end even more effective. TimeLine Theatre Company has clearly taken this modern literary gem from the pen of Alan Bennett and made it their own. Chicagoans should attend, enjoy, and rejoice!