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The History Boys at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre - Review

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Freelance journalist with a passion for theatre, the arts, food and books.
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Alan Bennett comedy play returns to West Midlands
Alan Bennett's The History Boys is a modern classic, famous for launching the careers of stars like James Corden, Russell Tovey and Dominic Cooper. Now Wolverhampton Grand Theatre has chosen the play as it pushes forward with making its own productions.

The History Boys, Wolverhampton Grand Theatre, Alan Bennett, Jack Ryder director
Coming of age comedy The History Boys

The History Boys is the third in-house production for the Grand and they've pulled in the big guns with director Jack Ryder, who was behind award-winning productions of Calendar Girls and The Full Monty, along with The Band.

There's also Hi-De-Hi! actor Jeffrey Holland - a regular at the Grand after Brassed Off! and last year's panto - and Ian Redford as experienced hands in the play, running at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre until Saturday February 22.

Following an unruly bunch of bright sixth-form boys leading up to their Oxbridge interviews and A-level exams, Bennett's famous wit is clear from the off-set.

It's as much about the boys' adolescent self-discovery as the clash of styles between maverick English teacher Hector (Ian Redford) and the young precocious supply teacher Irwin (Lee Comley).

History boys, Wolverhampton Grand, beat theatre in West Midlands 2020
Lee Comley, Jeffrey Holland and Ian Redford lead the cast

Teaching expectations, poetry, even how history can be twisted to one's own ends all get a rollicking from Bennett along the way in this raucous journey that is guaranteed to make you laugh.

With a headmaster obsessed with results(Jeffrey Holland playing it stern for a change) and female teacher Mrs Lintott (Victoria Carling) as the calm amid all the chaos, it's an intoxicating comedy.

Ryder does well to keep the momentum flowing in a very visual way with scenes intercepted by short video clips of the boys hanging around school, akin with Grange Hill.

Music is key to the production with a soundtrack of 1980s hits for the videos along with live piano music and singing by the boys that add an extra layer of sensitivity and depth to the show.

Talking of the boys, it's a well-cast group of young talented actors, no where near as young as they are supposed to be in the play, but on the whole looking youthful enough to pass as sixth formers.

The History Boys, Wolverhampton Grand Theatre, Alan Bennett, Jack Ryder director
A lesson in acute comedy in The History Boys

Thomas Grant shows exceptional skills as a singer along with acting beautifully the challenging role of lovesick Posner, struggling with his sexuality.

Frazer Hadfield is a likeable Scripps, who narrates much of the piece and also impresses tinkling the ivories, while Jordan Scowen and Dominic Treacy give both Dakin and Timns a brazen confidence that make them stand out on stage.

The focal point is always going to the two opposing teachers, so central to the plot. Ian Redford hits exactly the right note as avant garde Hector. He manages to make the teacher understandable, despite the character being so worryingly misguided.

While Lee Comley is an enthralling Irwin, a tense bundle of angst but also shamelessly ambitious and ruthless in his approach to history.

The Grand Theatre returned to its rich history of producing its own theatre after a 40 year gap with Brassed Off in 2017. With this vibrant, exciting The History Boys, it reaffirms why the theatre should continue down this path.

This new The History Boys wonderfully combines comedy with live music and video for a scintillating laugh out loud show.

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Why? See new version of classic comedy The History Boys
When: Until February 22, 2020
Phone: 01902 429212
Where: Wolverhampton Grand Theatre, Lichfield Street, Wolverhampton, WV1 1DE
Cost: From 12
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