Musical Pulls Apart Propaganda Machine Of 1940s Britain

Leave Hitler To Me Lad, Arts Theatre ★★★★★

By Londonist Last edited 57 months ago
Musical Pulls Apart Propaganda Machine Of 1940s Britain Leave Hitler To Me Lad, Arts Theatre 5

Of all the evacuees whose soldier fathers never actually said to them, “leave Hitler to me, sonny. You ought to be out of London,” Brian remembers it the most vividly. Ironically, he was abandoned at Great Stony School as a baby. Brian’s never met his dad, and the hero-parent he constantly sends letters to 'Dear Mr Churchill' about is a collage of his daydreams, fabricated entirely from wartime propaganda.

Haley Cox’s musical, which comes to us in London after its regional tour, is an all-singing, all-dancing examination of the damage done to a generation of children by such propaganda. Her Duckegg Theatre Company actors pull apart the stock phrases drip-fed to England’s children during the Second World War; a media attempt to graft a sense of nobility onto the disintegration of families.

It’s very cleverly done. The floor of Barney George’s cheery, retro set-design is emblazoned with the seditious phrase, so the words are trampled on both literally and metaphorically by the actions of this superbly versatile, multi-rolling cast. We hop back and forth between 1952 and 1972, meeting Brian as the boy who waits at Great Stony School with his friends Gladys (Amy Leek/Lucy Blott) and George (Sam Davies/James Smalley) and his rabbit Pandy — and as the man he becomes (Louis Labovitch). It’s a storytelling technique which delivers poignant doses of dramatic irony.

There’s a strong sense of a shared character between Labovich’s grown-up Brian and Grattage’s young Brian. Both keep rabbits and share a penchant for knitted tank-tops. We grow up alongside Grattage, feeling his adorable optimism, but the childhood scenes are spliced with details of a familial reality that we wish we could protect him from discovering.

A story full of goodbyes and hellos — all of which have very different emotional resonances from the ones we expect — this is a beautifully executed, sophisticated reflection on what it means to be a family. It leads us to realise that perhaps Great Stony isn’t so stony after all.

Leave Hitler to Me, Lad is on at the Arts Theatre, 6-7 Great Newport Street, WC2H 7JB, until 18 October. Tickets £18 (£15 concessions). Londonist saw this show on a complimentary ticket.

By Rosalind Stone

Last Updated 09 October 2015