HISTORY maker Samuel Barnett is living up to the wishes of unconventional teacher Hector in The History Boys by "passing it on" to York company Pick Me Up Theatre.

The Whitby-born actor has been giving advice and insights into fellow Yorkshireman Alan Bennett's schoolroom play with the cast ahead of the production's run at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre from tonight.

Samuel starred in the original National Theatre production and 2006 film version, in which he took the role of Posner, the Jewish schoolboy hopelessly in love with fellow pupil Dakin, played by Dominic Cooper. "The History Boys is special," he said. "I’m biased obviously, but I think it’s one of the best plays that’s ever been written. It’s an absolute classic.”

Samuel gave tips to Sam Baxter, the 17-year-old West Yorkshire schoolboy who plays Posner in Pick Me Up’s new staging, when the two appeared together on BBC Radio York's Afternoon Show with station presenters Adam Tomlinson and Neil Foster, who both star in the new show too.

“The key into it for me was unrequited love," Samuel advised Sam. "I think Posner is the role that Alan and Nick Hytner, the original director, most identified with so of all the boys he’s the most fleshed out. And, no matter who you are, everybody has experienced unrequited love. I was really young when I played the role but I used what little experience I had of life.”

Now 34, Samuel has latterly appeared alongside Mark Rylance in Richard III and Twelfth Night at Shakespeare’s Globe and on Broadway, but Posner remains engrained in his memory. “The role of Posner is the gift that keeps on giving, and when it’s performed in front of a live audience that’s when it really comes alive," he said. "I had a problem with the comic timing and the emotional stuff as well, but suddenly when I got in front of an audience they got behind Posner so much. The audience will be like the missing character in the rehearsal room. You’ve got some of the funniest lines in the show.”

Sam Baxter, who attends Crawshaw Academy in Pudsey, will be making his York debut but you may have seen him, how can I put this delicately, urinating through a letterbox last May in Bennett’s Enjoy at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, the playwright's home city.

Now, Sam is enjoying his second Bennett role, buoyed by tips from the original Posner. “When I first read the play I underestimated the character a bit," he said. "Posner is multi-layered and quite an ambiguous character in the way he presents himself to the other boys. I think he’s still quite lost in many ways, especially his sexual orientation.”

Samuel revealed to the Pick Me Up cast that the eight young actors who played the History Boys in the National Theatre premiere were taken by surprise by its success. “It was an instant classic with all the audiences but we thought it was quite boring and a bit dry when we were rehearsing it," he recalled. "But I think that’s because we were fairly young and didn’t really understand what Alan was talking about in the rehearsal room.”

What made the play so special, Samuel? "It covers all the bases, all of life really. From the young boys studying for Oxford and Cambridge, to Irwin in his twenties, who’s recently qualified and is trying to figure out who he is, to Hector, who's in his sixties and is brilliant but sad and a bit lost," he said. "But because it’s Alan Bennett it’s also hysterically funny and well observed.”

Adam Tomlinson, more often a musical director in York productions, moves out of the orchestra pit and on to the stage to play the Headmaster, while Neil Foster plays young teacher Irwin in Robert Readman's production. Neil first played the role six years ago, again directed by Readman in one of the first amateur productions. "I've jumped at the chance to do it again," he said.

• Pick Me Up Theatre’s production of The History Boys opens tonight and has further 7.30pm performances tomorrow, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday plus a 2.30pm matinee next Saturday (February 28). It will be running in repertory with Readman's production of Willy Russell’s musical version of Our Day Out tomorrow and Sunday at 2.30pm and on Tuesday, Friday and next Saturday at 7.30pm.

Tickets are on sale online at pickmeuptheatre.com and yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or on 01904 623568.