ARUNDEL FESTIVAL: Controversial but charismatic part

Stuart Smithers by Rosey Purchase

Stuart Smithers by Rosey Purchase

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First there was Richard Griffiths in the role on stage and on screen. Now, for the Arundel Players’ Arundel Festival production, comes Stuart Smithers.

He will be stepping into Hector’s shoes in his own wife Dawn’s production of Alan Bennett’s The History Boys from August 20-27 in the Players’ own Priory Playhouse.

Set in the early 1980s, the play follows a group of history pupils preparing for the Oxford and Cambridge entrance examinations under the guidance of three teachers with contrasting styles, among them the charismatic but controversial Hector.

“It is written with a lot of sympathy, and I think there is a lot of Bennett in the character,” says Stuart. “Bennett is a writer who tends to give his characters a lot of his own ideas, and Hector is an attractive character.”

As for Hector’s paedophilia: “He knows what he does, and there is no excuse, but the play tends to skate over it, rightly or wrongly.

“I know some people don’t like the play. Opinions are polarised. But I love it, and I would in no way condone paedophilia which is absolutely revolting, but what Hector says about education is fascinating.

“What he is saying is that education is far too narrow. It is all aimed at people succeeding in exams and jumping through hoops and that if you want to get on, that’s the only way to do it. But Hector says that exams are the enemy of education. Superficially, I find that quite attractive, but the reality is that we have got to have exams.

“But he is a maverick, and he develops a relationship with the boys, apart from the physical side, that develops their interest in a wide range of subjects that they would not normally have encountered within the usual curriculum.”

Other characters within the play give the opposing, more exam-based view: “I think that Bennett is very fair in giving both sides of the argument.

“But the point for me is that it is a joy to play. It is a joy to deliver those lines. I think that is why the top professional actors love doing Bennett and love it for good reason.

“I have done one of his Talking Heads twice now. I did one 15 years ago and then I played the same one again quite recently, and I love watching his stuff.”

For Stuart, this latest Arundel Players role is another happy chapter in an association going back decades.

“I joined the Arundel Players when I was 23, and I am 61 now. That’s a lot of years! I have been a member the whole time, and for most of that time I have been with them.

“I did have a brief period when I was acting more in Brighton, but I definitely do more in Arundel now. I like the people there. We have got very good friends that go back a long way within the company, and that’s the main reason.

“But also the theatre they have got is just a joy. To have the facilities that they have got and to be able to act on that stage is just great, with the variety of the shows that they do.”

Tickets via www.arundelplayers.org.uk.

Alongside his own Arundel Festival appearances on stage, Stuart is also the writer of the Arundel Players’ daily late-morning offering, An Empty Room – August 22-27, with performances at 11am.

Tickets for the morning show are not available in advance. They are available on the door on the morning of each performance only.