The Space at Surgeon’s Hall (Grand), Edinburgh
The Good Scout is – astonishingly – based on real events. In 1938, with the two countries on the brink of war, Lord Baden-Powell and ambassador Joachim von Ribbentrop set up a series of ‘peace and friendship’ tours, inviting members of the Hitler Youth to stay with scout troops in England, in an attempt to foster relationships. British scouts went to Germany too, but writer/director Glenn Chandler’s play is all about one particular (fictional) visit to Bassington in Cambridgeshire.
Gerhard (Clemente Lohr) and Friedrich (Simon Stache) are the Hitlerjugend sent to stay with Will (Clement Charles) and his friend, Jacob (Charlie Mackay), two Rover Scouts keen for a new experience. Will is serious and principled, a law-abiding, anxious lad, working for the local newspaper, harbouring ambitions to become a ‘real’ journalist. Jacob lives with Will and Will’s mother, Rose (Amanda Bailey); the two boys are very close. But the Germans’ arrival highlights their differences, and tensions develop as new allegiances are formed. Secret agent John Dory (Lewis Allcock) adds an extra layer of mystery – forcing Will to choose where his loyalties really lie.
This is, at its heart, a play about relationships – and about historical attitudes to homosexuality. Friedrich is afraid to return to Germany, where he risks being castrated and sent to a concentration camp if his proclivities are reported. Things are better in England, but still dreadful: Jacob has to worry about a two-year prison sentence – and bear the burden of his last lover’s suicide. All four young men are forced to carry secrets, but their association gives them the chance to question what honouring their countries really means.
It’s a fascinating premise, and the performances are good, but overall it feels a bit uneven. The comic interludes depicting Hitler’s meetings with various world leaders are too cartoonish; I understand these are moments of high camp and light relief, but it just seems a bit silly and doesn’t really work for me. I’m also not convinced by some of the plotting, by how easily the boys break confidences and reveal what they know. There’s a guilelessness that makes them all seem younger than their age.
At times, there’s too much stage traffic, too much coming and going. There are no wings in this theatre, so each entrance and exit involves an ungainly wriggle through the backdrop, which is distracting; it would work better if it were more streamlined.
Nevertheless, this is an interesting story that throws light on a little-known slice of British history.