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Tony Grist

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The History Boys [Feb. 14th, 2015|10:17 am]
Tony Grist
I've never quite understood why we expect greater realism in the cinema- where we're watching shadows perform on a sheet- than we do in the theatre- where we're in the presence of flesh and blood actors- but that's the way it is. Turning a play script into a movie almost always creates problems and here's a case in point. Bennett's dialogue is very verbal, very stylised. No-one talks this brilliantly in real life- and certainly not a bunch of adolescents. The imposed realism of film works to alienate us from the script's theatricality.

I understand we're supposed to be in the 1980s. Well, perhaps. Actually, we seem to be in a platonic, wibbly-wobbly present that could be any time in the past half century. Bennett the playwright isn't interested in getting the period detail right but the film makers feel they have to try- and so there's dislocation. Would 1980s schoolboys- even under the influence of a charismatic teacher- have sung Jerome Kern for pleasure and memorised scenes from Now Voyager and Brief Encounter? Unlikely. In the never-time of theatre these things matter as little as the town clock striking the hour in Julius Caesar; on film, well, such questions arise.

Also one can't help noticing that the "boys" are all in their twenties.

Still,  still, stiill, the bones of the play show through. And it's a good play- dazzlingly intelligent-  a wickedly witty symposium- in which points of view and aspects of character flicker, catch the light, clash and plunge back into shadow. As a play it will almost certainly go on being revived- and the revivals will render this passable record of its first production redundant- except- except that we're not going to get Richard Griffiths back- and here he is- the first ever Hector- in a career-defining performance that's now fixed forever- setting the standard against which all future Hectors are bound to be measured.

[User Picture]From: matrixmann
2015-02-14 12:34 pm (UTC)
Interesting question.
Maybe that is so because in theater people assume this is without special effects and such, everything needs to be there in the hall and everything technically needs to work in reality. There's no trick possible with this.
But, on the other hand, in the age now with the new technologies, with the advances to virtual reality, one could also say "why not making use of this technology in theater?". Technically it wouldn't be impossible, and mankind admittedly is playful enough to even dare that.
Guess only it is not because all investments go to the cinema, or rather to the streaming industry; the theater seems old-fashioned.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2015-02-15 09:18 am (UTC)
But we do use technology in the theatre- or at least- some productions use it. We can make things fly, we can make them disappear, we can flood the stage, we can create highly realistic sets- and so on. There's a long history of illusionism in theatre.
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From: (Anonymous)
2015-02-14 01:02 pm (UTC)
This seems like a very perceptive review of The History Boys. I couldn't put it better.
Jenny x
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2015-02-14 05:53 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: nineweaving
2015-02-15 06:18 am (UTC)
...dazzlingly intelligent- a wickedly witty symposium...

Just so. I was lucky enough to see Richard Griffiths on stage.

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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2015-02-15 09:14 am (UTC)
That must have been a treat.
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[User Picture]From: davesmusictank
2015-02-19 11:05 am (UTC)
I did find the film version uninvolving.
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