The last time I reviewed a book, I was in the classroom of an English teacher who despised me; I was fourteen years old. I'm now an English teacher myself (although, certainly not despised) and I'm about to review a book (well, a play). ‘The History Boys’ is a play by Alan Bennett, an English author, actor, playwright and screenwriter.
Fun Fact: Bennett was in an episode of Family Guy (Brian’s Play, 2013) as himself.
What started as an amusing and intriguing play slowly became a mass of uncomfortable, pseudointellectual dribble. Overall it seemed as though most of the themes only exist in order for you to question their existence. Admittedly, I enjoyed the occasional use of French. There are references to history; teaching, education and inappropriate (although not explicit) behaviour throughout, making this feel like a controversial but interesting piece of writing for a teacher to read. Had I read the play as a student, I might’ve been more accepting of it; I may have viewed the characters differently and empathised with their teenage struggles.
Being unable to relate to the staff or students in any way makes it all seem slightly alien and heavily fictional. The bizarre attitudes of the characters and the strange classroom encounters feel far removed from reality. The play contains various anachronisms which can be confusing at times. It’s set in the eighties and as a twenty first century teacher I know that there are considerable differences and major flaws in previous education systems but for a play entitled ‘The History Boys’ it doesn't exactly seem historically accurate.
The premise of this play baffled me, what was the point of it all? Perhaps something along the lines of foolishness leads to destruction? Although I'm referring to the foolish nature of Hector and his inevitable fate, I'm not really sure what I got out of reading this. Mrs Lintott seems a relatively sane and likeable character, until during mock interviews she goes on a rant about women in history. The whole scene feels like an afterthought, an ‘oh, we should probably think about the women’ moment as every other female character is either a silent nobody (the headmaster’s wife and Hector’s wife) or an object of sexual gratification (Fiona).
The film differs greatly from the play in several ways and having read the play first, I suggest doing so too before watching, particularly if you’re a fan of the Harry Potter films. Some differences are irrelevant such as the headmaster’s wife being replaced by a lollipop lady or Irwin’s loss of both legs becoming a broken bone but it’s interesting to play spot the difference. If you watch the film and then read the play, you might find yourself envisaging the cast of the film rather than characters developed using your mind’s eye.
The play can be read in about an hour depending on your own pace.
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