The Theatreguide.London Review
Old Vic Theatre Autumn 2021
Bess Wohl’s coming-of-age play Camp Seigfried is set in New York’s German-American Camp Seigfried during the summer of 1938 when a sixteen-year-old girl named Her (Patsy Ferran) meets and becomes romantically drawn to the seventeen-year-old boy named Him. (Luke Thallon)
They talk initially as a band plays at a dance and later as they chop wood for the outdoor fire and lay bricks for the speaker's platform they are building.
Their conversations are about each other, about late-night hikes and about the sexual antics in the woods of the boys and girls who, he tells her, are helping to create ethnically pure Germans.
Inevitably, it being 1938, the subject of Hitler crops up. He tells her that Hitler ‘has turned Germany around’ and when she is chosen to give a speech at the German Day festival, she praises Hitler whose solution to the problem of ‘the Bolsheviks, communists and the Jews is to rip them to shreds.’
And in case the audience thinks she might have forgotten the country she lives in, she tells them ‘I am sure America will be great again.’ That line got a knowing laugh from the audience.
The play tries to treat seriously the subject of the way vulnerable people can be attracted to extremist solutions to problems, drawing on the historical record of the actual Camp Seigfried.
It is performed by two very fine actors on a huge empty stage with occasional back projections of newsreel footage of strong uniformed Germans marching. And it is just one of a number of London shows that currently depict the Nazi danger (I have seen four this month)
Unfortunately, there is an artificiality to the coming-of-age troubles of the youth (his insecurity about sexual performance, her confusion about a past relationship she feels might have been abuse).
The right-wing politics seem crudely imposed, for example in that Trumpian echo in reference to making America great. And in trying to make the characters representatives, they also lack believability. The audience will surely puzzle where the girl’s Hitler speech comes from.
None of this would matter if the play had some dramatic tension, but it doesn't.
In fact, so little happens during the ninety-minute running time that is essential to the rest of the plot, you could fall asleep ten minutes after the play starts and wake ten minutes before the end without missing anything you need to know.
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