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In Review: 'The History Boys' at the Byre

Barrie and Empson's Hit Rendition

On Tuesday 1 and Wednesday 2 November, Mermaids put on its sold out production of The History Boys at The Byre Theatre. Directed by Catherine Barrie and produced by Henry Empson, it was an undeniable triumph. From the stellar soundtrack composed of generous helpings of Talking Heads, The Smiths and XTC, to the dynamic set design, The History Boys was an impressive feat of student theatre.

“It’s just one f****ing thing after another,” remarks Rudge (played by Finn Jeffrey) when asked to define history, a statement which encapsulates a central concern of the play: what is History, what constitutes education and does any of it really matter? The History Boys follows a group of boys at a grammar school in Sheffield in their attempts at securing places at Oxbridge, aided by their conflicting and morally questionable teachers. Hector, played by Freddie Lawson, champions the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, whereas Irwin, played by Marcus Judd, a young History teacher not much older than the boys themselves, encourages the students to approach history like a game, turning facts on their head to grab the attention of Oxbridge dons during their interviews.

Despite a couple of ever so slightly questionable northern accents, the acting was very strong across the board. Standout performances were made by Seb Filho as Posner, Buster Van Der Geest as the Headmaster, Sacha Murray Threipland as Dakin, and Margot Pue as Mrs Lintott. Filho’s brilliant musical numbers were a definite highlight and always well-received by the very vocal audience. Posner doesn’t quite fit in and pines after his classmate Dakin, and Filho’s expert portrayal of a boy struggling with his sexuality is tender and humorous in equal measure. Murray Threipland particularly shone in his scenes with Marcus Judd, creating a palpable sense of tension as he vies for Irwin’s approval and attention. The pair skillfully bounce off one another, with Dakin’s brash confidence perfectly contrasting the bumbling awkwardness of Irwin.

Van Der Geest also excels in his depiction of the Headmaster as a man dead set on keeping up appearances, so much so he suggests Irwin grow a moustache to appear older to the boys. Van Der Geest adopts a somewhat frantic persona, emphasising the Headmaster’s unwavering obsession with improving the image of the school by getting as many of the boys into Oxbridge as possible. Furthermore, Pue perfectly encapsulates the witty yet headstrong and no-nonsense Mrs Lintott, who opposes the “subjunctive history” championed by Irwin and the “calculated silliness” of Hector’s lessons, instead viewing history as “a commentary on the various and continuing incapabilities of men”.

The calibre of the cast was complemented by the slick set changes and expert costumes, which presented the schoolboys as suitably scruffy. Ultimately, Barrie and Empson’s rendition of The History Boys was an undoubtedly professional production, eminently worthy of the many praises sung by impressed audience members as they left the auditorium.

To witness more of the very best that student theatre at St Andrews has to offer, details about future Mermaids performances can be found on their Instagram and Facebook pages. If you’re interested in attending the next Mermaids production, tickets for Twelfth Night are available for 14th-15th November at the St.Age at 7:30pm. Please visit the Union website to purchase your tickets

Photo: Helen Lipsky

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