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Theatre review: The History Boys by Sheffield University Theatre Company (SuTCo)

Photo credit: SuTCo

Taking on this well-versed Alan Bennett gently-comic modern classic, which has appeared in more guises than you can shake a school cane at, could be something of a daunting task for a first-time director.

Sheffield University Theatre Company’s Paul Hilliar has not come unstuck, creating a warm, well-paced production with a convincing cast who convey humour and pathos to the witty, wordy script. Standout performances come from Todd Baker, (Hector), Mark Chapman (Headmaster) and Chris Ince (Posner).

Switching the setting to 1980s Sheffield gives a local twist, which leads to some added belly laughs. During one poignant scene, lovesick Posner bemoans being ‘Jewish, small, homosexual – and ginger- in Sheffield!’.

Hilliar’s fresh approach also overlays iconic pop soundtracks of the age (The Undertones, ABC, The Smiths) as the drama unfolds. Music’s a fantastic shorthand for tapping into characters’ emotions so, at these moments, it’s easy to feel you’re standing in the scuffed shoes of the boy protagonists.

There’s a fair amount of ground to cover in this nostalgic exploration into education, the conflict over the way history is taught in schools (Hector’s focus on literature and ‘the truth’ does battle with Irwin’s contemporary ideas about subverting the ‘dull’ standard teachings in favour of a contrary ‘angle’ to the past) and adolescent struggles with sexuality.

With this in mind, the three-hour show (including interval) may have benefited from some salami-sliced editing but this crowd-pleasing, cracking production makes it’s own little piece of history.


Theatre review: Pool (no water) by Sheffield University Theatre Company (SuTCo)

Photo: SuTCo

Venue: The Drama Studio, University of Sheffield (date of show 22 October 2010, performance ran from 20 to 23 October 2010)

The thin line which straddles love and hate doesn’t just get crossed in Pool (no water) – by leading British theatre company Frantic Assembly – it gets positively trodden and stamped on, in this startling and thoughtful exploration of the notion of friendship and love.

Originally devised with acclaimed writer Mark Ravenhill, (The Cut, Shopping and Fucking) this vibrant physical theatre piece centres around the tangled, complicated emotional dynamic between four obscure artists and their rich, famous friend, Ellie.

After many years apart, the group visit Ellie, a talented and feted artist, at her luxurious home – complete with outdoor pool – and a night of celebration leads to their hostess suffering a terrible freak accident. It’s only then, the dark underbelly of the true, visceral feelings of the visting quartet for their estranged ‘friend’ come to vivid light, unravelling in disturbing and twisted ways.

Despite the sometimes confused and disjointed use of symbolism, the physicality of the performers is well-paced and musical interludes add an additional, haunting layer to the show. Although the script merely skims the surface of the world the characters exist in at times, Pool (no water) is overall a brave and bold production, which is well worth a dip for fans of challenging, entertaining theatre.