Whenever I go on a UK theatre glut, I always tell myself that I should make more of a habit of seeing plays in Sydney, and not gorge myself in London simply because there’s far more choice (and a better train service to get home on afterwards). I half-managed to kick off this resolution by going to see Alan Bennett’s The History Boys at the Sydney Theatre Company on Saturday. But of course that’s cheating in a way, since this is a direct import of the National Theatre production, so I was basically watching theatre in London, transplanted to the Antipodes.
Never mind, though, because it was an utterly superb production. Bennett is often accused of being a cosy playwright, but there was nothing particularly conventional about this (in either staging or thematic terms), and the characterisation was deft and believable. Plus, naturally, there were plenty of good jokes, including an entire scene played in French which still had the audience rolling in the aisles. No easy feat in multi-language-phobic Sydney, that, though I could have done without the woman up the aisle translating for the benefit of her friend.
Most of the UK cast have been imported to recreate their roles, and their easy familiarity in the parts made them utterly convincing. It didn’t hurt, of course, that the play was set in the 1980s and makes use of various pop classics during the scene changes (though Bennett notes in his introduction that the choice of that period was mostly a pragmatic one, since it was the last period when people sat weekend-long exams for admission into Cambridge and Oxford, which is one of the central concerns of the play).
I’ve been to the STC premises for press conferences before, but never for an actual play. The theatre itself is very well designed, so even the seats in the back row have a clear and unobstructed view of the stage. That said, I wouldn’t have wanted to sit in the boxes, but then again I never would want that, really.