Barrie and Empson's rendition of a contemporary classic
On Tuesday 1st November Mermaids will open its production of The History Boys, directed by Catherine Barrie and produced by Henry Empson, at The Byre Theatre. In Alan Bennett’s classic play, a group of boys at a grammar school in Sheffield pursue places at Oxbridge, aided by a number of offbeat and often questionable teachers. It provokes questions about sexuality, the purpose of education and the nature of history. Ahead of the opening night, we spoke to some of the students involved.
When asked about his motivations beyond choosing The History Boys, producer Empson mentioned that due to the lack of boys in St Andrews who get involved in theatre, he was particularly interested in putting on a play “that’s about boys our own age with issues they can relate to”. Empson also referenced the relevance of the play to St Andrews students in particular as “so many people here tried for Oxbridge and it’s a play that laughs about that process”. Ultimately, the production is “about boys unlocking their intellectual potential in small classroom spaces and it deals with serious issues in a lighthearted way and it just ticks every box of what I love about theatre”.
Margot Pue, who plays Mrs Lintott, seemed equally passionate about her involvement with the play. She was driven to audition for the role by “the hype about it last semester and the general buzz surrounding it”. Pue describes her character as passionate about the truth, believing in plainly stated facts as an important basis of history. Unlike some of the other teachers, Mrs Lintott sees the importance of helping the boys to achieve good grades and “doesn’t listen to the rubbish the boys parrot”, repeating much of what they are told by Irwin, a young History teacher and Hector, a non-conformist English teacher, whose teaching styles stand in stark contrast with one another.
This production of The History Boys will be second-year Freddie Lawson’s second time acting in the play. Lawson will play Hector, whom he describes as a “really bad, but passionate person”. Lawson sketched the strange dichotomy of Hector’s character: a mentor with a genuine passion for the arts and culture on the one hand, but dark and largely predatory intentions on the other.
Third-year Marcus Judd plays Hector’s opposing counterpart, Irwin. Judd was drawn to Barrie’s production because of his love for contemporary theatre and the cast and production team. Judd introduced Irwin as this new, fast-paced, efficient, although manipulative, teacher who rejects Hector’s romanticised vision of education. Successful education, for Irwin, means results. While Hector believes in the holistic development of the mind through discussion and non-linear processes, Irwin believes in a formulaic approach to teaching young men.
Pue, Lawson, and Judd have been working on this production since the second week of term, but Barrie and Empson first discussed bringing The History Boys to the Byre back in March. The anticipated production, now sold out, comes to the stage on 1st November and 2nd November at 19:30. The Saint looks forward to reviewing Empson and Barrie’s rendition of The History Boys.
Photos by Helen Lipsky