The two strong central performances from Patsy Ferran and Luke Thallon ensure that the audience is thoroughly invested in the journey that their characters take.
While the idea of two teenagers embarking on their first relationship while staying at Camp Siegfried, a place for those Americans with a German descent to learn more about Nazi ideology might seem a little far fetched – it is actually based in reality and is hauntingly brought to life in this wonderfully intimate production.
Written by Bess Wohl, Camp Siegfried is an intriguing look at how fascism seeped everywhere as Hitler’s rise to power was coming about and how easy it was for anyone to be caught up in his ideology. What makes Wohl’s play so fascinating to witness is the journey that both characters that this play focuses on go on – in particular ‘Her’ who starts off awkward and naive with low esteem to then transforming to someone of some importance, while ‘Him’ who seems to be so impassioned and proud of his German heritage is also scared of what the future holds – the worry of becoming a killer being at the forefront of his mind. Both are drawn to the ideology they are being taught for different reasons : one to prove they are strong and not weak, the other in an attempt to make herself visible.
The whole script is so tightly written and by focusing on these two characters rather than having many, the story certainly takes on an extra poignancy and resonance. This is particularly seen with regards to the idea that they are both being used to create the new generation of Germans by being encouraged to ‘socialise’. It is also a script that is filled with warmth and humour but beautifully manages to balance it out with moments that chill – in particular the way in which he casually talks about nearly murdering a boy simply because he was a problem to solve, while when she is chosen to be class speaker and her speech is filled with hate and disdain are just two examples.
Directed by Katy Rudd, the production is intimate, pacy and compelling to watch thanks to its simplicity and focus. Rob Casey’s lighting design is by turns soft and sharp, capturing the play’s ability to switch tone and mood perfectly, while the video put together by Tal Rosner adds extra context of what it was like to be at one of those camps. Rosanna Vize’s set design meanwhile is very naturalistic and haunting, making the audience truly believe that they are at various locations at the camp with great simplicity.
But it is the performances of Patsy Ferran and Luke Thallon that really makes this production shine. Both have created characters that are insecure but also complex that makes the audience long to get to know them more and what the future holds for them both after the play is over. Each performance is filled with depth and understanding that keeps the audience compelled to watch until the very end.
This is a well-thought out play based on a little known piece of history that really makes a strong impression on the audience. Well worth a visit to the Old Vic.
By Emma Clarendon
Camp Siegfried continues to play at the Old Vic Theatre until the 30th October.