09 March 2006

The History Boys

Today was my last day in Sydney, and a pretty full day it was, too, though I didn't get to do everything I'd hoped, meaning I didn't get to either the beach or the gym.

But I did have a wonderful sendoff at a dinner party hosted by Robert and catered by Michael (with sweets by Patrick) in lovely and colourful East Sydney.

And in the afternoon, R, M and I went to see the Alan Bennett play The History Boys at the Sydney Theatre Company, a highly entertaining and at times deeply touching study of how education and history shape our souls and our perceptions. It's got a bit of Goodbye, Mr Chips or To Sir With Love in it, but minus the occasional mawkishness of those pieces, and although it skirts the realms of sentimentality at times, it never stops to wallow in them. Mostly it's sharpish English humour - some of the suburban Aussie housewives in town for a bit of kulcha expressed bewilderment as to what those Poms were on about - and I found myself wondering how it will do with an American audience when it transfers to Broadway in mid-April.

Probably very well: for one thing there's a plethora of Anglophiles in New York, and for another, the cultural divide between London and New York has dissolved so much in recent years that it's often only the age and height of the buildings that reminds me which town I'm in.

Or maybe it's just because I've lived in England for a rather long time now, and while I once thought I'd forever feel like an alien there, many of the cultural markers that once seemed so impenetrable - regional accents, class distinctions, terminal irony - now feel almost comfortably familiar, even, or perhaps especially from 10,000 miles away.

How I came to be seeing The History Boys today instead of in London, where it had a very successful two year run, involves a bit of happenstance. I'm someone who used to go the theatre a lot, but for the past few years - say for all of the 21st century thus far - I just haven't gotten around to it, or been sufficiently inspired. So while I'd read about The History Boys and thought, "That sounds interesting," and while I'd walked across Waterloo Bridge dozens of times and noticed it playing at the National Theatre, the thought of actually buying a ticket and going to see it never sufficiently penetrated my thick skull.

Then here I was on a sunny Sunday afternoon in Darlinghurst, finding myself sitting next to a friend from London (people from London seem to keep popping up here as though Sydney were merely an extension of Greater Soho). I ask him - as you do - what he's doing here, and it turns out that not only is he appearing in The History Boys, but that he's been a part of the cast since it opened, and that he was also in the film of it, which will open sometime this (Northern) autumn. Well, I didn't say he was a close friend - I typically run into him in London about once every six months or year - but still, it seems as though I should have had some idea.

I mean, I'd known he was an actor, but I guess I'd sort of assumed he was like so many actors I knew, kind of struggling along from bit part to audition to bit of commercial work. And modest fellow that he is, he didn't do much to dispel that impression on Sunday, telling me how lucky he'd been to find a steady bit of work while emphasising how fragile the actor's position - and ego - can be when a few weeks or months go by without work. He never mentioned or even suggested that he played one of the major roles in The History Boys, enthusing instead about what a great ensemble he had been privileged to work with, and it was only tonight that someone pointed out to me that he - and the rest of the cast, to be sure - had their picture hanging in the National Portrait Gallery. As someone who's spent innumerable rainy afternoons slouching around the NPG, I must colour myself impressed; offhand, I don't recall seeing any other of my acquaintances hanging there. On second thought, I've probably met a couple of the punk/pop/rock type personalities, but that's hardly as impressive; I mean, how many lines do they have to memorise?

Well, enough rambling; it's time for me to go to bed and (sigh) sleep my last night in Sydney. For those of you in New York, I highly recommend you see The History Boys when it turns up there in mid-April. Anyone else, watch for the film. During set changes snippets of video were played which may or may not have been from the film; most of it was in black and white and looked rather like a Smiths album cover, an impression heightened by the frequent use of "The Headmaster's Ritual" as background music. Even if I'm not nearly the Smiths geek I once was, it looks promising for that alone, and if it comes near to capturing the spirit of the play, it should be an outstanding film. Anyway, so long to a great day and a great summer in Sydney; next time you hear from me it will be either from cold and nasty Berkeley or even colder and nastier London. Lucky I've got my love to keep me warm. Or so I keep telling myself.

1 comment:

Spoke said...

I watched Liverpool, via satelite, fizzle out last night...the weather looked poor. At the moment where I am, it is a balmy -7 degrees celcius and roughly 8cm of snow has dropped this morning. Better than -37 with wind I dare say...
Bit pissed the Reds are out though...still, I love them so.