DOCTOR Who Matt Smith, Banished’s Russell Tovey, and Gavin And Stacey star James Corden, The History Boys is a play with a reputation for making stars of its cast.
When it premiered in 2004, at the National Theatre, London, the then unknown Corden and Tovey were among the young actors wowing the critics. Today, both are household names.
I was chorus, all tapping, shimmying and jazz hands.”Alex Hope
Later, future Time Lord Smith would join the company, while the 2006 cinema adaptation saw Jamie Parker, who has since appeared in the Tom Cruise movie Valkyrie and the BBC drama Parade’s End, get into the skin of the religious Scripps.
Scripps is the role former Royal High pupil Alex Hope plays in the touring production that comes to The King’s, next week.
The 21-year-old, who has already been described as a ‘rising star’ of the stage, is modest however, when it is suggested The History Boys could set him on the road to stardom, as it did those who have gone before.
“We talked about that in rehearsal,” he reflects. “About how the film sort of set the piece in stone. It was immortalised by Richard Griffiths as Hector, and all the boys whose careers just skyrocketed after it.
“But we’ve been very clear, we just want to let the script speak for itself. Richard Hope, our Hector, keeps saying, ‘You’ll see those boys in the next five years!’ But I don’t want to speculate. As long as we all have a good relationship in the play and rehearsal room, which we did, it was just like hanging out really, I’ll be happy.”
While Alan Bennett’s Olivier and Tony Award-winning play may be uplifting, it has a dark heart.
Set in the 1980s, The History Boys is the story of a group of bright, funny and unruly sixth-formers in pursuit of sex, sport and a place at university. Their maverick English teacher, Hector, who has been described as an ‘oddly loveable perv with wandering hands’, is at odds with the new young and shrewd supply teacher, Irwin, while their headmaster is obsessed with results and league tables. Their A Levels may be over, but their true education is only just beginning.
For Hope, who graduated from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama last year, Scripps is his third professional job, having been cast in First Episode, at the Jermyn Street Theatre, and the BBC Radio 3 drama, August 1914.
“Scripps is very religous. Very Anglican. He’s inspired by Hector,” explains Hope. “Of course, the play has these looming elements that are now, after Yewtree and all the media coverage, seen as such a threat.
“Still, it was recently voted the Nation’s Favourite Play. The challenge is to be positive and play the dark stuff in such a way that leaves it open for the audience to discuss.”
Now based in London, where he shares a flat with a friend who studied law and a drag queen (“It’s been a interesting experience; I’m intellectually and aesthetically stimulated,” he quips), Hope discovered his love of acting while watching his sister Becky in an amateur production of Annie. That was just over a decade ago, he was 11 at the time.
“That’s what inspired me. Becky was in the chorus of a Tempo production of Annie and I just loved it. I don’t know what it it was. It was in the Church Hill Theatre, I sat in the front row and just wanted to be part of what was happeneing. It looked so much fun.”
When his sister, now trainee director at the Royal Lyceum, went on to join the Lothian Youth Arts Musical Company (LYAMC), the stagestruck youngster wasn’t far behind her, appearing first in a production of The Vackees.
“We had to do accents and I don’t think any of us knew how to at the time,” he laughs. “Then I did Titantic The Musical. That was quite fun, I played the guy who missed the boat. I had to run down the middle aisle of the Church Hill. So I got saved... but then the rest of the play happened and I had to join the chorus. So I died as well.”
Hope spent seven years with LYAMC and also took to the Playhouse stage in one of their summer schools - another production of Annie.
“I was chorus, all tapping, shimmying and jazz hands,” says the actor, who, although happy in the world of musical theatre, slowly came to the realisation that straight drama was what he really wanted to do.
“It wasn’t until quite late on. I’d seen a lot of films and, more and more, I realised that was what I wanted to do. When I joined the Lyceum Youth Theatre at 15, drama school became the next obvious step.”
Away from the stage, Hope has his homecoming well planned. “I’m very much looking forward to spending a week with mum, starting off with Mother’s Day at The Witchery,” he says, “It’s going to be a treat.”
Then there’s a prospect of a reunion. “My old band mates are raring to go, they can’t wait to see the play,” says Hope, who used to be a member of local Indie rockers Campbell’s Wild.
Finally, there’s a catch up with his sister, but might Becky be tempted to don her director’s hat and give him notes after the performance?
“Depends how good my accent is,” he laughs. “I’m going to have to make sure I do my warm ups properly.”
The History Boys, King’s Theatre, Leven Street, Tuesday-Saturday, 7.30pm (matinees 2.30pm), £14-£29.50, 0131-529 6000