I saw Alan Bennett’s The History Boys yesterday at the Ahmanson, and liked it quite a lot.
I think it’s important for a screenwriter to keep up with current plays, because the two art forms continue to influence each other. For example, at least in this staging, many pieces of connective tissue were pre-shot on video as montages, letting the story get off the stage for brief moments. There was also a flash-forward that would seem familiar to anyone who saw the third season finale of Lost.
A writer can get away with quite a few things on stage that are tough to pull off in movies. In the second act, a character remarks to the audience that since things seem to be going so well for everyone, the rules of dramatic irony dictate a sudden reversal. Which of course comes.1
A more clever use of dramatic liberty is a scene in which one teacher tells another about a conversation he just had with a student. The conversation and the re-telling of the conversation take place simultaneously. It makes sense on the stage. It would be a mess on film.2
Perhaps because they’re not photographed, plays take place in less naturalistic universes. They’re impressionist. So you forgive — barely — a scene in which students enter class, take their seats, have a heated discuss, and are then dismissed by the class bell. I don’t know much about the British school system, but I feel certain that their class periods are longer than five minutes.
The class bell rings a lot, frankly. I suppose that’s because the stage relies on entrances and exits, but it gets repetitious. But it’s a minor complaint, and a play worth checking out.
- In script jargon, this is called “hanging a lantern on it.” You address the plausibility problem by highlighting it. ↩
- The big problem isn’t with continuity of time — film viewers have gotten quite a bit more sophisticated in that regard. The challenge is that a scene in a movie takes place in a distinct location: you’re either in the classroom or the teachers’ lounge. On stage, the scene can be in both places at once because the audience is creating the environments internally. ↩