A drama that tickles, disturbs and moves

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 February, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 February, 2006, 12:00am

The History Boys

National Theatre of Britain

Lyric Theatre, Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts

Until Saturday

As a Hong Kong Arts Festival highlight that quickly sold out, this National Theatre of Britain production certainly did not disappoint.

Written by British playwright Alan Bennett and directed by Nicholas Hytner of the National Theatre, The History Boys is a drama that tickles, disturbs and moves. But most of all, it takes theatre straight back to its core. Congratulations to the arts festival for pulling off a coup by bringing the show to the city before it travels to New Zealand, Australia and New York. The History Boys is, in essence, a stage piece that combines a solid script - there is not one line that is superfluous - and some marvellous acting.

At one level, it looks at the education system and the different teaching approaches that evolve from it. At another, it explores the ambiguous relationship between teachers and their charges.

The story is set in 1980s northern England at a grammar school where its headmaster (played by Malcolm Sinclair) is determined that his seniors should succeed in their Oxbridge entrance exams so as to elevate the school's standing in the league table. Hector (Richard Griffiths) has an unconventional approach to teaching. He believes students should learn not from memorising but through free and creative thinking, hence the hilarious scene in which the boys conduct a role play set inside a brothel, in French.

But lurking behind this eccentric and wayward persona is his unusual relationship with his students: each boy takes a turn to ride on his motorbike after school for more than just a quick spin or friendly lift home.

The Hong Kong production features most of the original cast - all the boys and the excellent Griffiths, who has picked up a number of awards for his role as Hector, including an Olivier Award for best actor.