Playing Hector in Alan Bennett’s The History Boys is a very different business post-Jimmy Savile, concedes Richard Hope to whom the job falls at Southsea’s Kings Theatre (April 22-25).
Set in the 1980s, The History Boys is the story of a group of bright, funny and unruly sixth-formers in pursuit of sex, sport and a place at university.
Their maverick English teacher Hector is at odds with the young and shrewd supply teacher whilst their headmaster is obsessed with results and league tables.
Against a background of staff-room rivalry and the anarchy of adolescence, good old Hector is determined to take the broadest possible view of education. The problem is good old Hector is also abusing the boys.
Hector provokes insistent questions. Their A Levels may be over, he argues, but their true education is only just beginning.
But there’s no getting away from the abuse he is meting out.
“Hector is very different post-Savile,” Richard says. “What I have tried to do is to show the flaws in Hector. I am not going to condone anything that he does or what he is trying to do, but really what he is about is trying to inspire these students to learn for themselves, to have a broader idea of our literary heritage.”
Richard draws a distinction between Savile and Hector: “Jimmy Savile was predatory. Hector is a married man. But he is quite individual in the sense that he makes some connection with the students. You would have to say that Savile was a serial paedophile. Hector is not in that league even though what he does is not excusable. But some of the boys are over 18 – though I think the awareness of people aged 18 is very different to what it was when I was 18. There is a scene where one of the students tries to seduce one of the teachers, Irwin. They are doing it because the summer has finished, they have got into Cambridge, the term has ended, they are just pushing the boat out...”
But despite all the misgivings, Richard still believes it is important to look at what Hector is saying about our literary heritage, at what he is trying to do in education terms...
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