Bennett's Boys

Special Features   Bennett's Boys Playbill.com springs a pop quiz on the eight young stars of Broadway's History Boys.
Samuel Anderson; Samuel Barnett; Dominic Cooper; James Corden; Sacha Dhawan; Andrew Knott; Jamie Parker; Russell Tovey.
Samuel Anderson; Samuel Barnett; Dominic Cooper; James Corden; Sacha Dhawan; Andrew Knott; Jamie Parker; Russell Tovey.

***

Richard Griffiths' performance as the unorthodox molder of young minds, Hector, is winning the lion's share of accolades thrown at Alan Bennett's hit Broadway play about education and educators, The History Boys. But without the octet of actors playing his impressionable students, he'd have little to do on stage at the Broadhurst. With than in mind, Playbill.com decided to test the Oxbridge-bound boys with a few questions about their own schooling in England. Here are the results.

***

Samuel Anderson (Crowther)

Q: Did your schooling in England bear any resemblance to that found in The History Boys?
A: I don't think my school has any resemblance to the school in History Boys apart from the fact that it's a school. I attended a mixed school in small town called Wednesbury, where I can't remember ever hearing talk of Oxbridge. I do remember a guy in my year, who came out of his G.C.S.E 's with a pocket full of A's and more than enough brains to go to Oxford or Cambridge, but he decided against taking his A levels and got a job in a bank. Q: Did you ever have a teacher like the one played by Richard Griffiths, one who had an influence on you?
A: I think I had two teachers that I could make slight comparisons with Hector. One was a science teacher who sat a little to close to the mad scientist stereotype. Very eccentric. He would crack jokes all lesson and make you think he was a nice guy, but then at the end of his class, he'd set you a load of homework to make up for the work you didn’t do because of his talking. His name escapes me because he left when I was in the first half of my schooling (and probably because I didn't pay too much attention while I was there), but I'll always remember his closing lines in his leaving speech: "Don't make excuses and complain and get upset if you get into trouble for something you didn't do. Instead use that blame for something you got away with!” Don't know why I've always remembered that. The other was the school’s deputy head and my Religious Education teacher. A guy named Mr. Reece. He always had a story to tell, he could make us laugh and he still had our respect. We would get timetable updates first thing in the morning, letting us know which teachers were away sick or for whatever reason. And apart from my P.E teacher, he was the only one I never liked to see off the timetable. Our substitute teachers were like lambs to the slaughter.

Q: What is your personal take on the student you portray in the play? :
Crowther is my alter ego who attended school and did more work than he did play. He's probably the hardest worker in the school, but luckily for the other boys he's the most laid back. He doesn't mind a bit of controversy. And he doesn't like cricket—he loves it.

***

Samuel Barnett (Posner)

Q: Did your schooling in England bear any resemblance to that found in The History Boys?
A: My schooling in England doesn't bear much resemblance to that found in The History Boys. I was brought up in the north of England, but when I went to school, the grammar school system, which is where the play is set in the 1980s, had been abolished. I went to an ordinary comprehensive school and got on quite well because I worked hard. Also, the entrance exam for Oxbridge, which required students to come back and do an extra term at school after 'A' Levels, had also been abolished, although I think it is back in now. No one at my school would speak like the boys do in the play. I don't think it's meant to be a realistic portrayal of 18/19 year-old students. We had to work hard in rehearsal to make the boys seem realistic so that the text that comes out of our mouths sounds like it could conceivably have been thought up by a bright, precocious 18-year-old. But in reality, no one speaks like that. One of the greatest challenges in the play was mastering Alan's writing. It's as dense as Shakespeare and just as precious in that one wrong word throws the rhythm and meaning of a line.

Q: Did you ever have a teacher like the one played by Richard Griffiths, one who had an influence on you?
A: I was lucky enough to have a few truly great teachers, who helped me not only to get my exams, but also cared about my development as a person. And there was one teacher in particular who had a profound effect upon me and who challenged me in my work and who opened up my eyes and my soul to the world, as amazing and as painful as that was.

Q: What is your personal take on the student you portray in the play?
The main theme for Posner is unrequited love, but it's not as simple as that. There is something about Posner that leads him to have a breakdown and to end up isolated and alone in the world, because that's the only way that he can cope with life in the end. Posner needs connection with someone and reaches out to his teachers. He is disappointed with Irwin's response to his request for help, but in Hector he finds he connects with his soul. But I feel there is a big betrayal for Posner, as he sees it, in what goes on between Dakin and Irwin, and I feel he never really recovers from that and from what happens to Hector, all of which contributes to his breakdown. Ultimately, we meet Posner when he is on the cusp of really growing up and coming to know himself. He feels lonely and scared and it is a very delicate time for him, and events happen which disturb him at a time when he needs stability and support. And so perhaps he never really gets to grow up in a way in which he can connect with people, hence he ends up alone.

***

Dominic Cooper (Dakin)

Q: Did your schooling in England bear any resemblance to that found in The History Boys?
The immediate differences would be that I went to a mixed sex school that was state run (public) and instead of wearing neat blacks and tie, I sported a viscose blue sweat top. Whereas the History Boys classes were kept to a minimum pupilage, we had eighty sweaty units in each concrete cell.

Q: Did you ever have a teacher like the one by Richard Griffiths, one who had an influence on you?
I had some very inspirational teachers who I am still in contact with. My tutor and my drama teacher made me actually want to attend lessons as opposed to the other classes I had such as algebra, which made me want to stab myself in the eye with a sharp toenail.

Q: What is your personal take on the student you portray in the play?
A: I think Dakin uses his sexuality to manipulate situations and people in order to satisfy his depraved urges. But he has a damn good time doing it.

***

James Corden: (Timms)

Q: Did your schooling in England bear any resemblance to that found in The History Boys?
A: My school could not have been more different to the one the boys attend in the play. The thought of sending just one pupil to Oxford or Cambridge was a pipe dream for most of my teachers I'm sure. It wasn't particularly rough or badly behaved, it just never felt very academic there. No one went on to study physics or medicine, although one girl does work in the local chemist. Does that count as medicine? I dunno, I enjoyed school, but it never felt like learning anything was very important to me. I didn't really give a damn about anything other than drama.

Q: Did you ever have a teacher like the one played by Richard Griffiths, one who had an influence on you?
A: I don't know that any teacher I had was quite as inspirational as Hector. But I did have teachers that have had a lasting impression on me. My drama teacher, Mrs. Hatfield, for instance was a great leveler for me. She would praise me often and take me down a peg or two when I needed that also. She was the first person to tell me that I might really have a chance at becoming an actor, but that I had to realize how hard it was and that I couldn't just expect things to fall in my lap. I tried to contact her to see the play in London, but I couldn't find her anywhere. It's a shame because I think she'd really love the play, as many teachers seem to who see it.

Q: What is your personal take on the student you portray in the play?
A: Timms is basically me, but a whole lot smarter than I will ever be. But basically he likes to find the fun in everything, he's constantly in a jolly state of mind. And that's not to say he doesn't care about getting into Oxford, but that whether he does or doesn't he's gonna have a great time while he tries! He always wants to be the center of the jokes and loves winding the teachers up; he's the class clown and he'll do anything to get a laugh—which is exactly the same as me really. I'm kind of shameless when it comes to making people laugh. I'll do anything.

***

Sacha Dhawan (Akthar)

Q: Did your schooling in England bear any resemblance to that found in The History Boys?
A: The schooling the audience witness in The History Boys is unique. Hector’s teaching ‘behind locked doors’ is something quite special. My schooling strictly followed a set curriculum, the same topics being taught every year. My classes weren’t as spontaneous as Hector’s, and the majority of teachers would play their lessons safe. Furthermore, the classes were not as small as Hector’s. Larger classes resulted to a lack of one-to-one attention, and I missed not having that. We were taught as a group, rather than as individuals, with different needs. If you look specifically at the "eight boys" scenario: they’ve completed their A-levels, and are now coming back for an extra term to apply for Oxford and Cambridge. In relation to my schooling, preparation for Oxbridge examinations is done during the A-level period. I had the advantage, in that, in comparison to The History Boys, my school was made up of boys and girls. However, in saying that, I look back on it now, and it was probably a disadvantage, because I wasn’t as focused as the eight boys. The majority of the time my eyes were elsewhere.

Q: Did you ever have a teacher like the one played by Richard Griffiths, one who had an influence on you?
Hector is the teacher we never had. My teachers played the system. Hector’s is the complete opposite. His teaching is a conspiracy, it's why we "lock the doors"; an isolated space away from life’s system. My teachers played by the rules, and couldn’t resist giving you the answer. Hector is inspiring because he encourages you to find your own answer. And it’s this which brings out the individuality in a person. And personally, I think this is what Hector strives to achieve. He encourages you to learn for yourself. No curriculum, it’s about learning what you want to learn, and in the long-term, these are the things you’ll never forget. It’s like what Hector says…its knowledge for the heart.

Q: What is your personal take on the student you portray in the play?
A: Akthar is arrogant. He’s so sure of himself, and carries with him an air of confidence. He’s undoubtedly clever, but not as clever as he thinks he is. There is vulnerability there, even though he wouldn’t admit it. He’s still searching for answers, and can easily be swayed…he’ll think one thing one moment and something else the next. He’s sharp as an arrow. He’ll only speak when he’s got something to say; there’s no small-talk. He knows exactly how to target someone’s weak point, Irwin being a clear example: "You’re very young sir…this isn’t your gap year is it, sir?"

***

Andrew Knott (Lockwood)

Q: Did your schooling in England bear any resemblance to that found in The History Boys?
A: My schooling, I can say, was nothing like that of the boys in the play. I wish it had been. Although I prefer that my school was mixed with both boys and girls unlike the school in the play, which is an all-boys school.

Q: Did you ever have a teacher like the one played by Richard Griffiths, one who had an influence on you?
A: My favorite teachers were the sports teachers. Being a fan of sports activities, I would find myself spending most of my time hanging out in the sports office chatting about football and trying to escape from math and English.

Q: What is your personal take on the student you portray in the play?
A: I really like Lockwood. He knows himself and isn't afraid to speak his mind but at the same time is open to new opinions and ideas.

***

Jamie Parker (Scripps)

Q: Did your schooling in England bear any resemblance to that found in The History Boys?
A: No. Only that I was a bit weird by school standards, and did actually watch films like "Brief Encounter," and play and sing songs like "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered."

Q: Did you ever have a teacher like the one played by Richard Griffiths, one who had an influence on you?
A: You're lucky to meet one person who can guide your thinking and instincts without indoctrinating you, whether they're actually your designated teacher in a formal educational establishment or not. At school I think I had two—both in the arts, unsurprisingly. Anyone willing to suffer the intensity of conviction that an adolescent has on subjects like theatre and literature, however unformed and inconsistent, and can channel raw energies in a way that makes the complex appear effortless, is a born teacher, I think, and anyone would be lucky to have one conversation with them. Of my two, one remains a teacher, and one is now a war correspondent. But regardless, the most enduring lessons I learned from either of them never ever took place in a classroom, which to my mind is still the environment least likely to instill a willingness to learn in a young person. If I'd not met them until yesterday, I don't doubt I would already be contemplating something they'd passed on, in the same way that I constantly refer to their attitudes and perspectives now when I first heard them a decade ago. That I'm still in contact with them, and count them as friends and not "ex-teachers," shows that the relationship was personal, not formal, and I'm with Alan in thinking that you can't really separate the transmission of knowledge with something profoundly intimate. But no, I never had a teacher who groped me.??

Q: What is your personal take on the student you portray in the play?
A: He's perhaps unusual in the play, in that, after all the debate and free-thinking intellectual perversity, he's actually more firmly attached to the position he held at the start of the play. Perhaps Rudge and Mrs Lintott share that. But, like teenagers can be, he's on occasion earnestly moral, even dogmatic, and is deeply distrustful of Irwin's amoral perspective, if not actually offended—but capable of recognizing that the valuable lesson Irwin teaches him is that such a way of thinking exists in the world, and that it's one that must be encountered more and more frequently. He's someone in whom I recognize a lot, but altogether wittier and sharper than me, with stronger convictions. And much, much better at the piano. Ultimately he is a good laugh to be around, and I think that's why I like him more than anyone I've played.

***

Russell Tovey (Rudge)

Q: Did your schooling in England bear any resemblance to that found in The History Boys?
A: My education didn’t fair very similar to the one presented in the show. For a start, my personal journey was not one of achievement, but just getting on with it, The naughtier you were the more respect you gained—any sign of intelligence was viewed as a weakness. I’m being dramatic, but at my "state" school, it was far easier to fool around and act the idiot than learn and be proud of learning. There wasn’t a post "A-level" class, either, for advancing on to university. I never heard of this before we started rehearsing The History Boys. I left at 16. The only similarity with my character in that we both act the idiot!!

Q: Did you ever have a teacher like the one played by Richard Griffiths, one who had an influence on you?
A: I had an inspiring teacher in the way that Hector is for the boys, where everything they say is an eye- and ear-opener, only this teacher was female and taught Geography: Mrs. Vincent. This woman was so wonderful in her teaching that you wanted to know and impress her with your knowledge in Geography so much that homework was a joy and the lesson became a firm favorite. Two of my closest girl mates at school went on to become geography teachers themselves because of this woman. She was also the kind of lady you could approach with anything, respecting and trusting her completely. This was a rare thing, Something which I’m sure people relate to or feel nostalgic for in Hector. She did not ride a motorcycle (though it may have suited her temperament—she was a portly Welsh woman), and she did not fiddle with the pupils. I never experienced anything of this kind throughout my schooling, though it hasn’t seemed to have done Alan Bennett any harm.

Q: What is your personal take on the student you portray in the play?
A: I love Rudge. Yeah, he is deemed the dimmest of the boys, but on a level where the class is full of freakishly intelligent children, that can only exist in a play. But in the real world Rudge is the brightest boy in the class. He achieved amazing marks in his A-levels to get admitted into this extra year prepping and obviously can understand what is going on around him. He is a super sportsman—in most schools this would be embraced and celebrated, though in this world of academics it is frowned upon. Again, in reality, this would have been carefully supported and nurtured. He is blunt, honest, no nonsense and confident. It is briefly mentioned that he is having sex, and though it is assumed in the play that Dakin is the most sexually advanced, I disagree with this. I feel Rudge is the most solid and comfortable and more aware of sex than any other character in the play, because it isn’t an issue with him—it just is: "sex on Fridays and the weekend is for rugby and golf." This guy knows his priorities! Rudge is a lucky guy, the kind that wanders along in life and lands on his feet over and over again, without ever feeling any luckier or unluckier than anyone else. I doubt Rudge knows depression. He is too level-headed and emotions of this kind would seem over-dramatic to him. It is a lot of fun playing him every night on stage and it's always a surprise how an audience reacts to him. I think as a character he is possibly the easiest to relate to and one that can be seen to progress throughout, which is why as an actor it's brilliant to have someone with a connection to an audience from the moment you're on stage. Rudge wants to further his education because it is well known that the best all-round sports are found at OxBridge, (He is the captain of the rowing team in the first six months.) The academic side doesn’t bother him; to learn history is just to learn to get on. He couldn’t care less about it; just tell him what he needs to know and he'll do the rest. It's great to have a character that has a hidden secret throughout a play where he is patronized by teachers and colleagues, only in the end to rise above all of them all and leave them shocked by his status and ease! Long live Rudge and all those that compare to him!