The History Boys - as you’ve never seen it before - on a Peterborough stage

The History Boys.'Photo: Thomasbyronphotography.co.uk
The History Boys.'Photo: Thomasbyronphotography.co.uk

Peterborugh based Lamphouse Theatre are bringing a brand new production of Alan Bennett’s classic comedy The History Boys to the Key Theatre stage next month.

Lamphouse Theatre have been working in the city for six years, and are best known for their hilarious, musically-driven Christmas shows. The team at Lamphouse takes classic tales, more recently Peter Pan and Beauty and the Beast, and adds an unexpected twist, creating laugh out loud performances, punctuated by live original music. The shows are usually performed by just three actors, in many different costumes.

So, with a cast of 12, The History Boys is a brand new challenge. The play is part of a new scheme that the company have launched this year called Lamphouse Local, which pairs a professional creative team with a company of hugely talented community performers.

Artistic Director Tom Fox explains:”When I was 17 I started thinking about what steps to take to make theatre my career, and I was lucky I had a great support network around me. I’ve spent several years directing shows in London, Edinburgh, Norwich and elsewhere, and coming back to Peterborough I realised there was very little opportunity for hopeful young actors to find professional experience within the city.

Peterborough has an amazing youth theatre offering and some really excellent amateur societies, but there’s not much in between for young people who want to find out more about the professional theatre world.

“Lamphouse Local is offering eight young people, and four adult community actors, a really valuable insight into what it’s like to work in the theatre industry. They are rehearsing alongside a professional director, producer, designer and stage manager, and will be performing on the city’s most prodigious stage.”

Despite having a different starting point to Lamphouse’s previous shows, Tom is adamant that the performance will be full of the popular ‘Lamphouse flavour’.

“The History Boys won’t be staged in the way you might expect,” he says, “we’re not having static desks and chairs, with classroom walls. The show is really active, with a toe-tapping underscore of hits from the 1980s. Our cast are usually exhausted at the end of rehearsals!”

Never ones to be accused of choosing the obvious route, Lamphouse have also cast this production with a gender blind company. This means that some of the male roles will be played by female performers.

“The challenge”, says Producer Becky Owen-Fisher, “is that the gender of the characters isn’t changing, so the girls will have to act as boys, and the ladies as men. We’ve always been very keen on creating unexpected theatre - we don’t ever want people to be able to predict what we’re going to do next, so we’ll have some more surprises up our sleeves for The History Boys!”

Lamphouse made some careful considerations when choosing their debut play for Lamphouse Local. The History Boys is a classic, but has a huge array of still-relevant and fascinating themes.

From a discussion about the state of education and the question of what defines history, to the more difficult subject of how to grow up, Alan Bennett’s themes chime as clearly today as they would have done back in the 1980s when the story is set.

The cast is made up of 12 performers from all walks and stages of life: ex-teachers, teaching assistants, current teachers, college, A Level, and GCSE students, university graduates and gap-year experiencers all feature in the company, each adding a different layer to the rich tapestry of experiences within the education system.

“This means we can ask questions,” Tom explains, “and use our experiences to shed a little light on the predicament of the boys in the play. All eight characters are trying out for Oxford and Cambridge; some of the company attended illustrious institutions such as these, some of us went elsewhere, some of us haven’t been to university, and others are applying now. With this huge mix of experience we’re really able to dig down into the reasons why we choose further education and the reasons why it may not be right for all of us. This philosophy, teamed with tons of energy, fun and mischievousness from the boys makes the play a real joy to watch.”

Becky says: “The story has substance and poses some challenging scenarios, but the Lamphouse style is alive and well. Whenever I go to a rehearsal I can guarantee to spend the whole evening in fits of giggles.

The cast is working incredibly hard, but they do it with so much flair. The show is going to be an absolute blast!”

The History Boys is on at The Key Theatre from Wednesday 22nd - Saturday 25th May, at 7:30pm every evening, there is also a 2:30pm Saturday matinee.

Tickets are £15 for adults and £12.50 for concessions and can be purchased from the Key Theatre box office. Group discounts are also available, please contact becky@lamphousetheatre.co.uk for more details.