n 1938, two German-American teenagers meet, briefly fall in love, and embrace fascist ideology at a Nazi summer camp in New York State. American writer Bess Wohl’s play is based on facts and reminds us of how quickly and easily people can radicalize. It’s superbly performed by Patsy Ferran and Luke Thallon, but it’s a stimulating and talking piece that sometimes feels too much on the nose.
When Thallon’s character Him first flirts with Her de Ferran, he has to yell at a group of oom-pahs. He is the arrogant, bright-eyed veteran explaining the camp‘s mission to promote “German values” in the face of growing hostility from the United States, and excusing Hitler’s madness as “just his style.” She’s the self-loathing, clumsy novice, although the balance of power in their relationship changes quickly, especially once they obey the instruction to “be social.” That is to say, to procreate and multiply the race of masters.
It is terribly fascinating to learn that there really was a Hitler Street in Long Island, on land that could only belong to those of German descent, and that the young people were prepared there to be agents of a foreign power. Arguably we face such frightening levels of extremism today as we did in the 1930s, but Wohl’s attempt to draw parallels between then and now can be brutal.
Ferran’s character has been damaged and misled before, so he’s more susceptible to indoctrination. Elected youth leader of the camp, she embarks on a Hitlerite diatribe in which she promises to restore greatness to America. She later recounts being treated by a couple who turn out to be Jewish. Both characters constantly mention the fact that it’s 1938 to bring home what’s to come.
Katy Rudd’s production hones in on the more awkward parts of the dialogue, but inevitably gets Ferran and Thallon stuck at opposite ends of the largely empty stage for long stretches of action. Rosanna Vize’s set consists mainly of a wooden slatted backdrop on which Tal Rosner projects Leni Riefenstahl-style videos of young people frolicking. Lighting designer Rob Casey subtly evokes changes in mood and scene. But these are the actors you’ll want to see this for.
Ferran is utterly convincing as a girl half her age, a bunch of awkward twitches and fits, out of which something terrifying emerges. Thallon is all about Aryan confidence and physical boastfulness until his character confronts both his true nature and his flaws. Both were nominated early in their careers for the Evening Standard’s Emerging Talent Award, and it has been a professional pleasure to see the breadth and depth they have shown since, especially here.