Dawn marshals her History Boys on stage
The Arundel Players launch into Alan Bennett's The History Boys for the Arundel Festival, a play director Dawn Smithers absolutely loves.
Performances will be from August 20-27 in the Players’ own Priory Playhouse.
Set in the early 1980s, the play follows a group of history pupils preparing for the Oxford and Cambridge entrance examinations under the guidance of three teachers with contrasting styles, among them the charismatic but controversial Hector, played by Dawn’s husband Stuart.
“I just love Alan Bennett,” Dawn says. “I think he has great honesty and great ability just to get to the nitty-gritty. There are no frills and furbelows with Alan Bennett. He knows people. He is a bit like Alan Ayckbourn and in a way not like him. But they both understand human nature. And we are talking about ordinary people. There are often elements of Alan Bennett himself in his characters. In The History Boys, in two or three of the boys you have got Alan Bennett in there, the way he thinks and the way he talks.
“I loved The Lady in the Van. I thought it was wonderful, and also the film was great, but really I just loved the play. The film of The History Boys is good too, but again, I just love the play. In the films you can go out and about and have different settings, but in the play, it is much more intimate, much more focused…
“What makes The History Boys such a good play is the attitudes of the boys and this character of Hector that was played by Richard Griffiths. He is a maverick teacher. He does not conform to conventional ways of teaching. He believes that exam preparation is not necessarily the way he wants to go. He doesn’t believe in the old ways. He believes in reading and in looking at films. He believes in a much broader spectrum of education to get people through life rather than just the curriculum. He is dealing with the crème de la crème. They are all trying to go to Oxbridge, and the dialogue is just amazing. He is very charismatic.”
The downside is that he is also a paedophile: “But it is dealt with brilliantly in the play. They are not little boys. These are 18-year-olds. We don’t know what he has done in his past. That does not come up, but obviously what he is doing is wrong, but plays reflect life. And yes, it is a very sympathetic portrait of a paedophile and obviously we have no time for that sort of thing, but that is how (Bennett) has written it.”
Dawn will be directing her own husband in the part: “I have directed Stuart more times than I care to remember, and he is very good. We don’t have any problems with it at all. He directed me last year in his morning play he did about Sarah Bernhardt.
“But it is good. It means we can talk about the shows at home, and it is a lovely shared hobby to have. We both understand what each other loves about doing it. Stuart has written and directed, but he really loves acting. I have done lots of acting over the years, and I still like acting, but I tend to do more directing. I just love adding the layers.
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