The History Boys, Grand Opera House, York

KATE Saxon's gold-star national tour of Alan Bennett's award-winning comedy The History Boys has all the energy, exuberance, intelligence and mischief-making of a typical classroom.

The setting is an early-1980s South Yorkshire grammar school where loose-cannon English teacher Hector (Richard Hope) is sharpening the scholarship class for their Oxbridge exams.

His subject for the term is General Studies and that means generally studying outside the defined curriculum, broadening minds, challenging the status quo and pushing boundaries – out of boundaries as his hands stray.

Hector, played as a wounded classroom colossus by Hope, is teaching his bright sparks for "the long littleness of life" that will replace the precocity of youth. Disruptive new supply teacher Irwin (a shrewd, shrewish Mark Field) is smart but artless and heartless, as he drives along a narrower path.

And what of the unruly, opinionated, confused, vibrant History Boys of the title? Under Saxon's direction, they combine an ensemble schoolroom bond with tremendous individual performances, especially from Kedar Williams-Stirling as cocksure star pupil Dakin and Steven Roberts as the delicate, troubled Posner.

The electro soundtrack of New Order and The Human League evokes the era's golden promise; Libby Watson's classroom design has period detail galore. Witty, waspish and wary of education being streamlined and homogenised, The History Boys finds Bennett nailing history – "it's just one thing after another" – while skewering literature, sex and the conservative English way as only he can.

* Runs until Saturday. Box Office: 0844-871-3024 or at

* Then, Darlington Civic Theatre, Tuesday, June 16 to Saturday, June 20. Box Office: 01325-486555 or

Charles Hutchinson