Yafank’s Long Island Hamlet’s claim to theatrical fame has so far rested with PG Wadhaus, who included Jerome Corn’s satirical stanza in his song for a normal life, “Bungalows in Kogo.” But in the new Tony Award-nominated Base Whale’s new play (“Grand Horizons”), which is now playing in London’s Old Vic, the area takes on a completely different color. The captivating, darkly suggestive title “Camp Siegfried” creates an instant freeson of history that signifies drama and its power. But there are moments when Ohl manages to point to his weakness.
The tension between the prologue and the literal figure is beautifully illustrated by the set of Rozana Viz, which for the most part consists of a combination of simply wooden slats, skillfully illuminated by Rob Casey, hanging across the stage. It serves as a screen for the occasional burst of black-and-white video footage of healthy kids playing rhythm, but often serves as an elegant symbol of the camping jungle.
Here in the summer of 1938 Luke Thalon’s strapping, the healthy boy meets the Latin-loving girl studying Patsy Ferran (simply named “Him” and “Her” in the script). Not only is he 16 and 17 years old, he considers himself both old and wise and decided to tell him what to do in the camp where he has been coming for a few years but where he is a newcomer.
Like the extraordinary real-life history of the camp, they are both German children, who, as we gradually understand, are being inspired. But in contrast to “The Sound of Music”, they are not only being actively encouraged to build brotherhood with each other after dark, but we are slowly discovering, to breed. The camp is inspiring them with German values, especially the Nazis.
Wohl’s study offers many insights into the impact, and how teenagers’ thoughts, doubts and fears are hanging over their relationships. In a series of short scenes, he interestingly takes the stages of their relationship from attraction to suspicion and out of connection, as the two are increasingly guided by the camp’s ideology towards themselves, towards each other and towards their future.
The higher the level of writing, the stronger it is. But in the latter part of the play, the overstatement makes Ohl even better. His thesis on the obvious dangers of the era, which the characters may not recognize but which the audience does, becomes less effective as the play progresses. And parallel to the present (the play was written during Donald Trump’s re-election campaign) seems very underlined. Despite Feran’s impeccable performance, his two long speeches, one political, one personal, will have more power when something less clear.
Director Katie Rudd occasionally pushes her actors a little harder: in the final preview, it seemed that a little more relaxation would let the play breathe. But he has thrown it brilliantly. In Tom Stoppard’s “Leopoldstad” the latest ideal and intellectual smog is seen, the rising star Luke Thalon shines himself here as a bright, perfect golden young man, log-cut and confident. A feeling of emotion awakens in him. He’s especially good at pointing when not showing cracks under his surface confidence.
She is ideally matched with Magnetic Return, who was already armed with Olivier, one of the best actresses for her debut album Alma in “Summer and Smoke,” with Joe Mantello’s “Who’s Afraid of the Virginia Woolf?” When Covid-1 stops production. Its luminous stage power arises from controlled awareness. His character is as stupid as nervous, but keeps his physique tense without the obvious choice of shaking back. By never resorting to “acting performances” and doing the work instead of working for the text, he effectively adds a completely thoughtful level to which you can make the audience feel.
In the end, despite its many good fortunes, as the evening progresses you realize that you will never doubt what the author wants you to think. This is great in a thesis, but less so in a play. As beautifully as Feran and Thalon show, sometimes the less you explain the stronger the drama will be.