Caught The History Boys the night before last and I’ve got to say, the Arts Club has gotten off to a crackerjack start to their 45th season. Both Doubt at the Stanley and The History Boys at the Granville Island Stage are fine productions, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t give them a bump here. They’re must-see material for anyone with a taste for the type of contemporary theatre that wins the big awards.
Both plays have a certain connectivity, actually, but reside on opposite ends of their respective schools. Although both deal with pedagogical pederasty, most of the reactions to this in Doubt are abject horror while The History Boys are surprisingly nonchalant about the whole affair. This is not a criticism, the victim (or is he?) in the former is in Grade school while the “victims” in the latter are vying for spots at Oxford and Cambridge, and seem to find their eccentric teacher’s manhandling to be rather…bemusing.
The writing of these two Tony winners couldn’t be more different either. Shanley’s Doubt is a clinic in economy of script, there’s not one word in the blindingly fast 90 minutes that doesn’t directly move the play towards its climax, and it wastes no time in concluding. Alan Bennett’s The History Boys, by contrast, is a play presented only for those with, to quote the work itself, “a love of language, a love of words”. It’s a cracking good script with twelve main characters, and clocks in at close to three hours full of lengthy banter and wordplay. It’s a word-nerd’s candy store.
The production design at both theatres has never been better, and the functionality and simplicity of the continually morphing The History Boys set is marvellous. It also claims the distinction of having easily the most kick-ass scene-shift soundtrack I’ve ever heard. I wish I could have bought it.
It must be noted that the three senior members of a mostly young cast – Bernard Cuffling, Duncan Fraser and Jane Noble – performed their roles to about the highest possible level. I can’t imagine that it would be possible to cast a better version of any one of those characters. Simply sterling performances.
Nice work Arts Club, and happy 45th.