CAMP Siegfried is a reminder that the seeds of fascism only need a little bonemeal to sprout to the surface like destructive knotweed.
Written by Bess Wohl, against the backdrop of a global pandemic and an unhinged US President fighting for his political life, the play’s backdrop is the summer camp of the German American Bund in the late 1930s. A camp where streets are named after Hitler and Goebbels – and where youngsters are encouraged to cavort in the woods and procreate. More Germans are the order of the day – and night.
Two young camp members – Him (Luke Thallon) and Her (Patsy Ferran) meet. To begin with, there is distance between them – both physically and emotionally. Him is full of testosterone and self-confidence. Her seems more unsure of herself and is good at self-deprecation.
But the distances evaporate as a relationship forms. Him chops wood as if he is a professional woodsman (wood runs in the family) and has a liking for beer (sometimes too much of it). Her slowly comes out of her shell, more pearl than mussel. There are a few hiccups along the way, but it is not long before the relationship blossoms and they lie down together.
Suddenly, it’s Her who seems to be adapting best to the rigours of Camp Siegfried. She is chosen to deliver a rousing speech to the campers – and thinking Hitler may be watching in the audience, she spits out bile that wouldn’t have looked out of place at a Nazi rally. There are more character u-turns before the end. Oh the fickleness of youth.
The play is a reminder that Hitler and the Nazis had their admirers in the US – as well as the UK – in the run up to the Second World War. It also sends out a signal that fascism is never far away as evidenced by worrying events in European countries such as Hungary. Like knotweed, it’s destructive and needs to be weeded out.
The play is 90 minutes long (without a break) and although it is a series of exchanges between Him and Her, it never drags. That is mainly down to two fine performances.
Thallon’s Him is teutonic and full of youthful energy and vigour – but not without his vulnerabilities.
Ferran’s Her is a complicated mix of vulnerability and inner strength. Both are manipulated by the empowerment that fascism can promise the young.
There are some super touches – videos of Nazi rallies (Tal Rosser) and Katy Rudd’s pacy direction (there is no let-up in proceedings).
All in all rather thought-provoking.
Title image by Tristram Kenton