Review: Dramasoc Presents: The History Boys

This weekend’s DramaSoc offering is Alan Bennett’s wildly popular The History Boys, which follows a group of Sheffield schoolboys in their pursuit of knowledge to gain places at Oxford and Cambridge. Ashleigh Thomson’s production, though a little slow at times, is well polished and features a handful of truly great performances.

Bennett’s trademark verbosity can sometimes cause performances of his plays to drag as actors gently wade through his text, taking time to really savour each flowery line. While DramaSoc’s production of The History Boys (clocking in at just over two and a half hours long) occasionally fell victim to this curse, great effort had clearly been made by Thomson and the cast to ensure that livelier scenes had no shortage of pace or energy. The infamous French role-play scene was perfectly measured and staged with skill, employing a sturdy comedic build that played out like a miniature farce in itself. The camaraderie amongst the boys felt real and it looked as if all involved were having a genuinely good time onstage.

The acting was solid all round, if perhaps a little safe, though for a student production this was to be expected. When Bennett creates, he provides a snapshot of real life, so naturally his characters are complex creatures. There were however some truly outstanding performances amongst the good, namely Mark Ellis (Scripps), Joe Price (Timms) and Sam Gilliatt (Posner). Ellis gave a remarkably controlled performance, with a measured sense of depth that really helped to ground both himself and his colleagues into an impression of reality. Following in the footsteps of James Corden is no easy task and the temptation to reproduce his character is often too great for actors to resist, but Joe Price made Timms his own with a cooler, but no less boisterous approach to the role. Sam Gilliatt, playing Posner, gave the most thoughtful performance of the evening and one of the finest displays of acting (and singing) in recent DramaSoc memory. His portrayal of the innocent late-bloomer charted confusion, intrigue and heartbreak without ever verging on the heavy side, it was both quietly devastating and joyous to watch. Joshua Gorroño Chapman put in a solid turn as Dakin, the object of seemingly everybody’s sexual desires, with a good mix of arrogance and charm. The other boys didn’t have as much of an opportunity to individually impress due to their smaller roles within the narrative, though they worked exceptionally well as a lifelike ensemble of rowdy schoolmates.

A few technical problems plagued the Barn this weekend, but the actors did a good job at keeping our attention firmly focused on the story and its performance. The occasional musical moments felt entirely necessary and not at all gimmicky, confirming that a lot of well-judged decisions had gone into ensuring this production was a success. Lucy Poulton’s naturalistic set design was thoroughly detailed and did a very good job of transforming the space into a high school classroom from the 1980s. Overall, The History Boys was not the most inventive piece of theatre to be staged by DramaSoc of late, but it certainly showed off the best of the society’s acting talent.

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