Theatre & Events: Actor inspired for role by going back to school

Nicholas Day in rehearsals for The History Boys, Crucible Theatre, May 16 to June 8, 2013''picture by Robert Day
Nicholas Day in rehearsals for The History Boys, Crucible Theatre, May 16 to June 8, 2013''picture by Robert Day
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A visit to High Storrs School really inspired actor Nicholas Day, who appears in The 
History Boys at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre.

Nicholas, who is the headmaster in Alan Bennett’s iconic play, set in a school in Sheffield, has worked as a supply teacher himself. He said that High Storrs was nothing like the stuffy, old-fashioned schools he once taught drama in.

He added: “It was a real privilege to be there. If I had a child I would be coming to Sheffield just to get them in there.

The spirit of the children and staff there is fantastic.”

Nicholas is more often seen on our TV screens as a policeman. He has played Alec Statham in Lovejoy, DS Morley in Minder and was a Deputy Assistant Commissioner in the first series of New Tricks.

Asked how he approached playing a part, he joked: “I learn the lines and then I say them! It’s quite scientific, my method.”

He said that he was given to officers in the Metropolitan Police to get an insight into their working lives and was given a valuable glimpse into their world.

At High Storrs, the actors had a chance to talk to teachers and pupils, which has proved invaluable.

He said of his role running a very different type of school in The History Boys: “The headmaster is described by other characters as t**t. You can’t play anybody as a t**t. You have to be an advocate for your character.

“You have to try and be honest and give it your best chance and let others be the judge and trust the text to do it for you.”

That text was written by Yorkshire playwright Alan Bennett, of course, who sets the play in a high-flying boys’ school in Sheffield.

Back in lessons after their A-levels to train for top university entrance exams, the boys find themselves caught between two opposing styles of teaching.

Eccentric Hector, played by former Stars in Their Eyes host Matthew Kelly, leads with a flamboyance that brings everything to life, while cynical Irwin has been brought in by the head to provide a ruthless route to Oxbridge.

But with love, sex and university on their minds, the question is, will any of them make the grade?

The story has a darker side and deals with issues around sexual misconduct by teachers.

A famous film of the play starred the late Richard Griffiths as Hector in a much-acclaimed performance.

Nicholas said: “It is a wonderful play and a wonderful text.” He added: “Alan Bennett’s writing is so easy on the tongue that I might be forgiven for thinking it comes so easily out of his pen. The beauty of it is the apparent flawlessness of it but it’s the product of much angst.”

Nicholas has been doing a lot of theatrical roles lately, working with the Royal Shakespeare Company for a season during the World Shakespeare Festival, working on classics like The Tempest and Twelfth Night.

He was also excited to be working on a new episode of Poirot just before he came to the Crucible. He plays a Foreign Office civil servant and it’s for one of the last four Poirot stories to be filmed.

Nicholas is enjoying his first visit to Sheffield. He said: “It’s a fabulous city full of fantastic people. Everybody is so friendly. I’ve not met a nasty person yet.”

The History Boys is at the Crucible from today, Thursday May 16, to Saturday June 8. Box office: 0114 249 6000 or go to www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk