The new production of The History Boys, opening at the Crucible next week sees the play staged in the city where it is set.
Director Michael Longhurst says that it is a naturalistic play that aims to view the 1980s through a modern prism. “It’s about the value and purpose of education which seems more vital than ever in the face of Michael Gove’s reforms,” he says. The director comes to Sheffield with a reputation earned from hard-edged contemporary dramas such as Constellations at the Royal Court and most recently Cannibals at the Royal Exchange in Manchester. “I am coming to this play from a different place and I am younger than previous directors and all these things combine to present a different vision. “And doing it on the Crucible stage will force us into a different realm. We will put the whole school life on stage at the same time thereby creating a place teeming with hormonal stress. These boys start out as big fish in a small pond and gradually realise this is about to change.” The role of the eccentric teacher Hector was so memorably inhabited by the late Richard Griffiths, that here Matthew Kelly has a hard act to follow. “Matthew was two years behind Richard at drama school and showed a picture of the two of them at the time,” says Longhurst. “Richard Griffiths’ performance was iconic but Matthew will bring something different, particularly a tremendous warmth to Hector. He’s also an entertainer and Hector’s style of teaching is too.” Casting the boys was very different. “You look for talent rather than experience. What we have is a group of thirsty ambitious young actors who are no different from the thirsty ambitious Oxbridge entrants.” There’s plenty of testosterone and energy being generated in the rehearsal room and the director sees his task as harnessing that within the group. The way Hector touches the boys is perhaps a more tricky aspect of the play in the light of the Savile scandal. “We have talked a lot about Hector because when I read the play I thought he gets away with it a bit but Alan is very clear and passionate in saying the boys are more sophisticated than Hector. But he has the power and a modern view might be different. I don’t think people should forget what Hector does but what do we do when someone we love does something abhorrent? What Savile did was unbelievable and what |Hector does to the boys is in no way comparable and is not the same thing at all. “The mentality is completely different and that’s why this is such a great play. It deals with the Fifties and Sixties and the Noughties as well as the Eighties and asks questions about how attitudes to sexuality have changed.” The History Boys starts previews at the Crucible next Thursday and runs until June 8.