Review: Camp Siegfried, Old Vic, London ★★★★★

It’s 1938 and we meet Him and Her at Camp Siegfried, a summer camp at Yaphank on Long Island for those of pure German-American blood to support Nazi Germany.

The play finds love and ideology blooming and intermingling, with young camp attendees encouraged to ‘be social’ to continue the German bloodline in the US – a code for the activities that happen between the young boys and girls (Him and Her are 17 and 16 respectively) in the woods after dark.

The clean stage design by Rosanna Vize allows space for the masterful performances of Patsy Ferran and Luke Thallon to flourish. Despite its minimalism, the stage never feels bare or empty. The metal slats are the camp’s wood, but also the cage that camp attendees are trapped in. It says much about the actors, directed here by Katy Rudd, that despite the huge expanse of the Old Vic’s stage, the performances never feel small or lost – together they fill the stage.

The play demonstrates two elements of radicalism – her quick burst of short-lived energy for the extreme ideology and his slow socialised ingratiation nature of an ideology taking hold and consuming the subject. The obvious allusions to Trump’s America are thankfully not overplayed.

Like her much lauded performance in the Almeida Theatre’s production of Tennessee William’s Summer & Smoke, Ferran’s Her is a repressed spirit, full of nervous energy. When the ideology takes hold, her transformation is frightening. The crescendo of the play is a spellbinding speech from Ferran on the camp’s German Day that doesn’t so much as draw you in, as drag you – you hold your breath as her intensity rises to a feverish and terrifying fascist peak.

The speech perfectly mirrors the character development through the play; beginning in self-apologetic awkwardness, gaining confidence before climaxing in frenzied delusion. It is a masterclass in acting by Ferran and writing by Bess Wohl.

Luke Thallon is magnetic, managing to garner sympathy towards a character that has been fully taken over by an ideology that he doesn’t understand. By the end, he has had his moment of anagnorisis, yet he still accepts his fate in the future that will become World War II. Thallon’s portrayal of a young man whose real dream of going West but is set to die in the East is truly heart-wrenching.

The play does lose something of its momentum following Ferran’s German Day speech, resulting in an ending that could be tidier, however this is a small complaint given the fruits on offer here.

One audience tweet the Old Vic have been using to publicise the show describes the production as having two future theatrical legends and that in 30-40 years it will be “a real ‘I was there’ moment”. I find it hard to disagree.

I do not think it is overstating the skills of these two young actors to suggest that we will soon be adding Patsy Ferran’s name to a list that includes Maggie Smith, Vanessa Redgrave and Judi Dench, and Luke Thallon’s to a list that include Ian McKellen, Derek Jacobi, Laurence Olivier and John Gielguid.

It has never been easier to say ‘this is a show that is not to be missed’.

Camp Siegfried is at the Old Vic until 30 October.