Alan Bennett’s classic drama has been brought to life by the students of Sheffield University Theatre Company (SUTCo).
The play is set in a Sheffield Grammar School in the 1980s. It follows the trials and tribulations of a group of History students preparing for the Oxford and Cambridge entrance examinations under the guidance of three teachers with contrasting methods.
The most striking moment comes when one of the boys declares: “I’m Jewish. I’m small. I’m homosexual, and I live in Sheffield. I’m fucked.” While the audience laughs, I think it largely reflects the reality of life in the 80s for minority groups in an intolerant society.
Classroom moments are highly entertaining and full of fun throughout the play, with the students constantly voicing their strong opinions about the subject in hand. However, the focus on the different methods followed by the teachers raises provocative questions about the importance of education. One teacher rejects the school’s single-minded focus on the entrance exam, suggesting that the History students should instead explore their interest in the subject. However, his views conflict with those of the headmaster, whose ambition is to increase his school’s academic ranking.
The drama makes me reflect on my own experiences of senior school. I stopped going to high school six years ago because of the pressurised method of cramming information used by schools in my country, which limits students’ ability to think independently. Pupils are required to follow everything the teachers say without question, and are not given the opportunity of exploring their own ideas.
The production is therefore extremely successful at encouraging the audience to examine their own priorities when it comes to education. While often light-hearted and fun, the drama conveys the importance of freedom and individuality, both in school and beyond.
The History Boys is an impressive drama that gets to the heart of Sheffield in the 1980s. SUTCo’s production represents a valuable opportunity for me as a foreign student to gain a deeper understanding of the local culture.