Thursday, May 6, 2010


How we played a part in History

Alan Bennett's The History Boys has been one of the most successful plays of recent years. After opening in London in 2004, it transferred to Broadway, where it enjoyed even greater acclaim and picked up six Tony awards. As the eagerly awaited film adaptation is released, Kate Kellaway meets the eight 'boys' at the centre of the story.

The History Boys is - for its original cast - about to become history. Richard Griffiths and his class of boys are saying goodbye to a play in which they have been involved for almost as long as it takes to complete a university education. They have graduated. It has been the most extraordinary two-and-a-half years since the first preview, in May 2004, at the National Theatre, when the boys did not know whether what they were working on was funny and director Nicholas Hytner was uncertain how the play would be received. No one was prepared for the 'wall of laughter' that greeted the History Boys within their first three minutes on stage and that has, since then, echoed around the world...

Cast profiles for Russell Tovey and James Corden:

Russell Tovey (23): Rudge

'Straightforward, honest, not ambitious.'

I can think of other adjectives: 'sporty, limited, dim'. But Russell Tovey likes his character. He's a one-off with an eccentric prescription for school-leavers: 'Everyone should go into therapy when they leave school because when you leave, you don't know who you are.' School was valuable because of his geography teacher. 'I liked the world [the boys laugh at this] but didn't want to be a geographer. But it was her approachable personality. I was naughty at school. She respected me.'

James Corden (26): Timms

'Fun, confident, good-looking.'

James, like Timms, was the class joker. He's lively, likable and contributes almost too well to class discussion. 'Unlike Russell, I left school knowing exactly who I was and what I wanted. I knew you could do almost anything if you were funny and confident: women ... work ... If you look like me at school, you are going to get bullied. But if bullies think you're fun, you stay out of trouble. You can be the fun fat kid who snogs the girls. It is the basis I still work on today.' The other boys roar at him. 'Everyone in this room will go along with that.'

...As a parting shot, I ask the boys to write down (with no conferring) a line about what they will miss most. I read their pieces of paper at the bus stop outside the Dorchester - and it is moving partly because, although the voices are so different, the message is the same. Dominic Cooper wrote: 'I already miss delivering the lines and experiencing a different tension each night. I will miss so much being surrounded by these friends I have grown to love.' And Samuel Barnett wrote: 'I'll miss saying Alan's words. I'll miss working with a group of people who are brilliant at what they do. In any production, there is often a weak link. But not in this one. I shall miss the comfort of the family unit we have become over the past two-and-a-half years. We all get on so well.' And Russell Tovey simply wrote: 'The end of an era. I'll miss being around my mates 24/7.'

That's how it feels to make history.

* Kate Kellaway
* The Observer, Sunday 8 October 2006
* Article history

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