Ac­tors take a les­son out of the his­tory books

Central Leader - - News - By David Gadd

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.

Photo: JOHN SELKIRK

Back to school: Ge­orge Henare and An­nie Whit­tle act up at Avon­dale Col­lege where they were re­search­ing for their new play The His­tory Boys.

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