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Issue 1774
The student newspaper of Imperial College London

Keep the Cat Free

Romance in a Real-Life Nazi Summer Camp

The year is 1938, on the brink of the WWII, and two teenagers meet and fall in love at a Long Island summer camp for American youths of German descent

Photo: Manuel Harlan


in Issue 1774


Camp Siegfried

★ ★ ★
The Old Vic
7th September – 30th October 2021
From £10

In more blunt terms, this is a camp where young people are taught to embrace fascist Nazi ideology, and is based on the real-life former Camp Siegfried. Writer Bess Wohl was intrigued by its origin after spending time nearby during the pandemic, and learning of a place where children lived on Hitler Street. Flower beds were planted like swastikas, and teenagers were encouraged to ‘socialise’ to create pure German offspring. It sets the scene for an interesting dialogue on how light-hearted summer fun and romance hides a dangerous programme of indoctrination. So subtle is the messaging that, as an audience member, it is easy to mistake the, in hindsight, obvious signs. Both characters are susceptible to extremist ideology in different ways. Awkward and bookish, Her (Patsy Ferran) just wants to be accepted, whilst Him (Luke Thallon) wants to be a part of something bigger — both impulses that ultimately make them vulnerable to radicalisation.

The historical context creates the potential for a powerful story but, whilst there were many captivating moments and the subject matter was interesting, there were times where Wohl’s plot left something to be desired. Towards the end of the play the narrative flatlined. In an apparent effort to make serious points about the parallels between modern politics and current times, it loses itself as a drama; sometimes becoming too overt and on-the-nose with unnecessary references to Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ slogan.

Photo: Manuel Harlan
Luke Thallon as Him

Despite this, there was never a moment where I genuinely zoned out, largely due to the stellar performances of Thallon and Ferran whose talent will keep you completely absorbed from start to finish, regardless of the dialogue. It's hard to make a play so engaging when there are only two actors on the stage. Olivier award-winning Ferran gave me goosebumps during the scorching monologue of Her’s Hitler Day speech, and the way in which she develops character is complex and gripping. It is easy to see the mesmerising chemistry between her and Thallon.

The set design matched the tone of the play; however, it sometimes felt as though the stage was too large to be so empty. Perhaps the experience would have been better in a smaller space, more representative of both the senses of intimacy and claustrophobia developed through the play. Rob Casey’s lighting is beautiful, particularly as the relationship between the two characters builds up. However, at one point the light is shined into the audience’s eyes which I don’t think anyone enjoyed.

Cr Dr1 037 2000x1500 Photo: Manuel Harlan
Patsy Ferran as Her

Regardless of these minor points, I still highly recommend you see this production to, if nothing else, experience the range and depth of Ferran and Thallon as actors. The play will be running at The Old Vic until 30th October, and tickets start at an affordable £10.

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