I don't normally do reviews but last night we went to the theatre to see The History Boys and it was so good I just have to tell you about it.
Usually I'm pretty lukewarm on Alan Bennet. He's amusing all right, but he can get a little too mawkish and sentimental for me. The History Boys, though, is in a different league altogether.
We drove into Aberdeen which meant I had to stay sober since it was my turn to drive. It's actually the first time I've ever watched a play in the theatre stone cold sober and I must say it was an entertaining experience. I'm always nervous in crowds and that added to the sense of drama last night. Heightened sensibility and all that. With the added bonus that I didn't fall asleep and annoy everybody with my snoring during Act Two.
The play is beautifully written and constructed. Witty, intelligent, poignant and moving. Everything that a Saturday night in front of the box isn't. This is a playwright at the peak of his powers. A master of stagecraft showing off his repertoire of tricks. But he isn't showing off. The audience - sophisticated and almost as knowing as the author - plays the part Bennett has written for it as well. And when he does catch us off guard - well, we're delighted. Mutual admiration from one professional to another.
The acting and directing, by the National Theatre company is exemplary, not to say inspired. Full of brio, life-affirming and heart-breaking all at the same time. Not a dud note in the entire cast.
The writing pushes the boundaries too. Or it would have done if there were any boundaries left to push. There's a scene near the end where one of the star students asks his young male teacher - who he knows is in love with him - to give him a blow job. It's a sign of how much times have changed that in Aberdeen - Aberdeen, that most provincial and small-minded of Scottish towns - a scene that once would have provoked a sharp intake of breath now had most of the audience silently willing the teacher to accede to the request. Go on, take a chance, live dangerously. Do it for us.
Well, most of the audience anyway. There was a family of four in front of us. A fierce-looking father, a doting, subjugated wife and two faintly-embarrassed teenage sons. The father led his family to their seats and allocated their places when they arrived. At the interval he shepherded his flock to the aisle where I heard him explaining the finer nuances of the plot to his captive audience. During the blowjob scene I saw him exchanging horrified glances with his wife. He looked trapped. It was too late to lead his flock away from this calumny. I guess I was watching a play within the play, which only added to the pleasure.
In summary, one of the most enjoyable, most uplifting nights I've ever spent in the theatre. Alan Bennett I love you. Folks, if you get the chance - don't miss it.