The History Boys
Original (2004) Royal National Theatre cast
Written byAlan Bennett
  • Headmaster
  • Hector
  • Irwin
  • Mrs. Lintott
  • Akthar
  • Crowther
  • Dakin
  • Lockwood
  • Posner
  • Rudge
  • Scripps
  • Timms
Date premiered18 May 2004
Place premieredRoyal National Theatre, London
Original languageEnglish
SubjectAn unruly bunch of bright, funny boys in pursuit of sex, sport and a place at university.

The History Boys is a play by British playwright Alan Bennett. The play premiered at the Royal National Theatre in London on 18 May 2004. Its Broadway debut was on 23 April 2006 at the Broadhurst Theatre where 185 performances were staged before it closed on 1 October 2006.[citation needed]

The play won multiple awards, including the 2005 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play and the 2006 Tony Award for Best Play.


The play opens in Cutlers' Grammar School, Sheffield, a fictional boys' grammar school in the north of England. Set in the mid-late 1980s, the play follows a group of history pupils preparing for the Oxford and Cambridge entrance examinations under the guidance of three teachers (Hector, Irwin, and Lintott) with contrasting styles.

Hector, an eccentric teacher, delights in knowledge for its own sake but his ambitious headmaster wants the school to move up the academic league table and hires Irwin, a supply teacher, to introduce a rather more cynical and ruthless style of teaching. Hector is discovered sexually fondling a boy and later Irwin's latent homosexual inclinations emerge.

The character of Hector was based on the schoolmaster and author Frank McEachran (1900–1975).[1][2]


A 2007 production of The History Boys at The Doon School, India; a scene featuring Irwin (played by Vivaan Shah, then a student) and Posner

Irwin is said to be modelled after Niall Ferguson.[3]

The play includes several non-speaking roles:


Royal National Theatre

The play opened at the Lyttelton Theatre (part of the National Theatre) in London on 18 May 2004, directed by Nicholas Hytner. It played to sell-out audiences and its limited run was frequently extended. Richard Griffiths, James Corden, Dominic Cooper, Russell Tovey, Sacha Dhawan, Samuel Barnett, Jamie Parker and Andrew Knott were among the original cast. On 24 November 2005, the same production was revived once again at the Lyttelton Theatre where it played another successful run. Matt Smith took on the role of Lockwood in the November 2005 revision of the cast. The original cast reunited in the final week in February 2006.

International tour

Following closing in London, the National Theatre production toured to Hong Kong in February 2006 and featured in the 2006 New Zealand International Arts Festival held in Wellington (February 2006) before playing at the Sydney Theatre in Sydney, Australia from 4 March to 8 April 2006. At each venue, the play was presented to sell-out audiences with the original London cast, including Richard Griffiths; however, Frances de la Tour and Clive Merrison were replaced by Maggie Steed and Malcolm Sinclair until the Broadway season.


The American premiere of the play took place on 23 April 2006 when the same National production opened on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theatre.[4] Originally scheduled to run through 2 September 2006, the run was extended through to 8 October 2006 following huge public demand after the show won the Tony, New York Critics Circle and other American theatrical awards.

West End

Following its Broadway triumph and second UK tour, the play opened at London's Wyndham's Theatre on 2 January 2007, following previews from 20 December 2006. The production closed on 14 April 2007. A further West End run of the play opened once again at Wyndham's Theatre on 20 December 2007 running through 26 April 2008.

Tours in the UK and Ireland

The first national tour of the production opened in 2005, continuing to play nine regional venues. A second Britain wide tour began on 31 August 2006 at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, touring to eight further venues. The third tour launched on 6 September 2007 at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth, before continuing to Truro, Cheltenham, Bath, Dublin, Blackpool, Leeds, Cambridge and Eastbourne, culminating in Newcastle on 10 November 2007.

Royal National Theatre casts

Role First cast Second cast Third cast Fourth cast
18 May 2004 to 2005,
23 January 2006 to 1 February 2006
(international tour, film adaptation)
24 November 2005 to January 2006 (UK tour) 31 August 2006 to 14 April 2007 6 September 2007 to 26 April 2008
Headmaster Clive Merrison
Malcolm Sinclair (23 January 2006 to 28 January 2006, international tour until Broadway)
Bruce Alexander William Chubb David Mallinson
Hector Richard Griffiths Desmond Barrit Stephen Moore Desmond Barrit
Irwin Stephen Campbell Moore
Geoffrey Streatfeild (20 December 2004 to 2005)
Tobias Menzies Orlando Wells Tim Delap
Mrs Lintott Frances de la Tour
Maggie Steed (23 January 2006 to 28 January 2006, international tour until Broadway)
Diane Fletcher Isla Blair Elizabeth Bell
Akthar Sacha Dhawan Marc Elliott Alton Letto
Crowther Samuel Anderson Kenny Thompson Akemnji Ndifornyen Nathan Stewart-Jarrett
Dakin Dominic Cooper Jamie King Ben Barnes (pre February 2007)
Jamie King (post February 2007)
Andrew Hawley
Lockwood Andrew Knott Matt Smith David Poynor Sam Phillips
Posner Samuel Barnett Steven Webb Daniel Fine
Rudge Russell Tovey Philip Correia Ryan Hawley
Scripps Jamie Parker Thomas Morrison Thomas Howes
Timms James Corden James Cartwright Owain Arthur Danny Kirrane

A majority of the original cast reunited on 2 November 2013 for the National Theatre 50th Anniversary special and performed the French lesson scene, with Philip Correia taking over for Russell Tovey, Marc Elliott performing as Akthar, original Akthar actor Sacha Dhawan as Posner (as Samuel Barnett was performing in Richard III/Twelfth Night on Broadway at the time) and playwright Alan Bennett taking over as Hector from Richard Griffiths, who had died in March 2013.[5]

West Yorkshire Playhouse / Theatre Royal Bath tour

A fourth national tour co-produced by the West Yorkshire Playhouse and Theatre Royal Bath commenced in early 2010. This was a new production not produced by the National Theatre and directed by Christopher Luscombe. The cast were as follows:

After a successful run the West Yorkshire Playhouse/Bath Theatre Royal production was revived for 2011 with the following cast:[citation needed]

Other productions

The Headmaster, in a 2014 production by OVO theatre company, St Albans, UK

Film adaptation

Main article: The History Boys (film)

In October 2006 a film adaptation of the play was released in the United States, and later in November 2006 in Britain. The film, also titled The History Boys, was directed by Nicholas Hytner and featured the original stage cast.

Awards and nominations

Original London production

Year Award ceremony Category Nominee Result
2005 Laurence Olivier Award Best New Play Won
Best Actor in a Play Richard Griffiths Won
Best Performance in a Supporting Role Samuel Barnett Nominated
Best Director Nicholas Hytner Won

Original Broadway production

Year Award ceremony Category Nominee Result
2006 Tony Award Best Play Alan Bennett Won
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play Richard Griffiths Won
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play Samuel Barnett Nominated
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play Frances de la Tour Won
Best Direction of a Play Nicholas Hytner Won
Best Scenic Design of a Play Bob Crowley Won
Best Lighting Design of a Play Mark Henderson Won
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Play Alan Bennett Won
Outstanding Actor in a Play Richard Griffiths Won
Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play Samuel Barnett Won
Stephen Campbell Moore Nominated
Dominic Cooper Nominated
Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play Frances de la Tour Won
Outstanding Director of a Play Nicholas Hynter Won
Outer Critics Circle Award Outstanding New Broadway Play Won
Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play Richard Griffiths Won
Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play Frances de la Tour Won
Outstanding Director of a Play Nicholas Hynter Won
New York Drama Critics' Circle Award Best Play Alan Bennett Won
Drama League Award Outstanding New Broadway Play Won
Distinguished Production of a Play Won
Theatre World Award Richard Griffiths Won


  1. ^ Andrews, Geoff (27 February 2012). "James Klugmann, a complex communist". Archived from the original on 30 August 2023. Retrieved 1 May 2012.
  2. ^ "T. S. Eliot". Archived from the original on 6 July 2022. Retrieved 3 April 2023.
  3. ^ "Niall Ferguson: The left love being provoked by me...they think I'm a reactionary imperialist scumbag". The Guardian. 11 April 2011. Archived from the original on 30 August 2023. Retrieved 14 April 2011. The character of Irwin in Alan Bennett's play, The History Boys – a pushy, contrarian teacher who becomes a TV historian – is modelled on Ferguson...
  4. ^ "The History Boys, Broadway Review, Broadhurst Theatre, New York Theatre Guide – Online". 2011. Archived from the original on 16 August 2016. Retrieved 23 July 2011.
  5. ^ "The History Boys — French Class [ENGLISH SUBTITLES]". YouTube. Retrieved 7 April 2019.[dead YouTube link]
  6. ^ "Uptown Players Presents – The History Boys" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 4 November 2015.
  7. ^ "Ambitious debut for theatre group". Craven Herald & Pioneer. Retrieved 7 August 2009.
  8. ^ Production History Archived 30 August 2023 at the Wayback Machine at
  9. ^ "The History Boys". Archived from the original on 16 September 2012. Retrieved 6 August 2014. (No publisher listed)
  10. ^ Nacional, Teatre. "Teatre Nacional". Archived from the original on 16 April 2009.
  11. ^ "The History Boys". Emma Collison Publicity. 2008–14. Archived from the original on 15 February 2013. Retrieved 6 August 2014.

Further reading