Director troubled by a dark chapter in history

Matthew Kelly, who plays Hector in The History Boys
Matthew Kelly, who plays Hector in The History Boys
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The director of The History Boys at the Crucible Theatre admits that he was troubled by some of the darker aspects of Alan Bennett’s famous play.

Michael Longhurst said he had spoken to Alan Bennett about the character Hector, played by TV presenter and actor Matthew Kelly. Hector is a teacher who inspires the boys but also sexually molests several of them when he gives them lifts home on his motorbike.

The History Boys is set in a fictional Sheffield grammar school in the 1980s and some of the plot is based on Bennett’s own school experiences in Manchester.

The boys have just finished their A-levels and their ambitious headteacher, played by Nicholas Day, wants more of them to get into Oxbridge, so they have extra lessons with a young historian called Irwin. His calculatedly cynical ideas appal Hector, who has a naively purist view of what he teaches.

The young director said: “I’m coming from a very current attitude, partly in mind of the Jimmy Savile scandal, about how we view Hector’s behaviour and how the play views it.

“The other characters didn’t judge him for doing it. Someone calls him a twerp.

“I very much wrestled with whether I could find a way to do the play.”

He added: “I think there is an important question which allows me to honour the play and find an angle for me. I thought about what happens when someone in our lives does something abhorrent. We’re very good at turning a blind eye or making new rules.

“There’s a huge culture of people looking the other way.”

Michael said of Alan Bennett: “I want to honour his play. For it to work you have to love Hector but it doesn’t means the rug can’t be pulled quickly from him. He despises himself for what he does.’’

Michael added: “It’s very exciting to be working with Matthew Kelly. He was two years below Richard Griffiths, who played Hector in the film, at drama school. He shared a class picture on first day of rehearsals. It’s such an iconic portrayal of the role, it could potentially be a hard part for an actor to make their own.

“Matthew’s a natural entertainer and a serious actor. He’s brilliant, very generous and an amazing company lead.”