Actors take a lesson out of the history books
Two of the country’s top actors returned to the classroom to swat up on teaching for roles in a new play.
Annie Whittle and George Henare can count themselves lucky however that they were not facing replicas of their own childhood days.
“I remember those teachers we used to have, the poor things. I remember the science teachers actually used to get it more than anybody else.
“They were fair game because I suppose they were so swatty you couldn’t help but pick on them,” says Mr Henare.
“I was a terrible non-conformist, and I was a girly swat. I did well at school but I was a nightmare for the teachers because I always answered back and I hated the discipline of the school,” says Ms Whittle.
The two are playing teachers in The History Boys, a play by Alan Bennett set in a 1980s UK grammar school as a group of boys prepare for entrance exams to Oxford and Cambridge universities.
Director Jesse Peach decided his cast needed to head back to school to tackle the play, which is laced with many literary and history references and immersed in the Oxbridge culture.
So Mr Peach put them into class at his old school, Avondale College, to learn from teacher Alan Jones, a man steeped in the ways of Oxbridge.
Mr Jones taught in UK grammar schools for 20 years from 1966 to 1996, passed the Oxbridge entrance himself and studied at Cambridge for a history degree and Oxford for an education diploma.
The research was necessary to get to grips with the idiosyncrasies of UK grammar school life which were “a bit over my head”, says Mr Henare.
“This is completely different from the classrooms I was brought up in way back in the 1950s with the old wooden lift up desks and you were there just to take notes and have it all blurted at you,” says Mr Henare.
Ms Whittle had a very English school life courtesy of Christchurch Girls High School – students had to wear white gloves and boater hats whenever outside the school grounds and were required to walk in lines called “crocodiles”.
George Henare plays Douglas Hector, an idealistic teacher, and Annie Whittle plays Dorothy Lintott.
Mr Peach said he decided to stage the play partly because it had nine parts for young actors but also he had “instantly enjoyed it” when he read it.
Other actors are Todd Emerson, Harry McNaughton, Milo Cawthorne, Elliot Christensen-Yule, Paora Durie, Nic Sampson, Sam Berkley and Chris Tempest.
The History Boys starts on October 8 and runs to October 24 at the Maidment Theatre.
Back to school: George Henare and Annie Whittle act up at Avondale College where they were researching for their new play The History Boys.