The Old Vic (venue)
21 September 2021 (released)
22 September 2021
Playwright Bess Wohl has taken a little known part of American/ German history of the late 1930's and explored the indoctrination and anti-Semitism that can appear hidden, but rise in the apparent innocence of Summer Camp. Camp Siegfried in Yaphank in New York State was a place where German families sent their teenage children to compete in games and life skills and form friendships with other pure Germans. What is hard to believe is how these teenagers were encouraged to 'be social', which meant pairing up and having casual sex to support the Nazi obsession with procreating an Aryan Race. What is shockingly real is the way that these expectations become confused with notions of first love, and what this Camp was doing to the mental health of these easily lead youngsters.
Wohl has chosen to portray this through the experiences of just two of these youngsters. Named only as Her and Him these two characters embody the neuroses of growing up whilst being exposed to blatant indoctrination. Patsy Ferran as Her is stunningly brilliant. Her ability to switch from nervous neurotic to strength and endearing love, whilst at the same time, being swept up by the influence of the Nazi doctrines, is totally absorbing. Her speech on 'German Day' at the camp where she suddenly embodies all the disturbing delivery and power of Hitler, is jaw-droppingly mesmeric.
Luke Thallon as Him is equally brilliant, his journey is almost the antithesis of Her. Him has already bought into the doctrines and the rules of camp, but through his burgeoning love for Her, he finds his passion for life with the possibility of fatherhood, only for this to be crushed through rejection. There is a physically dangerous side to his character too, that bubbles under the surface and erupts at certain points. Thallon's character is not quite as perfectly written as Ferran's but his total commitment to his role fully compensates.
This is superbly directed by Katy Rudd, who never lets the tension drop, and draws every nuance from the actors and the script. Rosanna Vize's wooden fenced set ,and its foreshortened height , gives a strong sense of entrapment as well as representing the heavily wooded surroundings to the Camp. When the set becomes less of a confinement, and reveal s an open stage, it is perfectly timed with the feelings of loss that the characters themselves experience at the end of the play. Rob Casey's lighting creates much of the mood and atmosphere within plot. Stark blinding light used to great effect.
This is drama at its best. It has you laughing one minute then plummeting to the shocking truth of what Her and Him are forced to endure. This is a production that taps into our own psyche. With our children emerging with their own mental anguish of lockdown, themes within this play are very raw and make this play all the more humorous, thrilling and tragic.