Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Scouts in Bondage

Glenn Chandler
Boys of the Empire Productions
King's Head, Islington
(2009)

Publicity photo

Tally ho chaps, it’s the Little Poddington Scout Troop here to entertain you with their daring deeds. Would you know what to do if you crash landed in Afghanistan and ended up being in the service of British intelligence fighting to protect the British Raj? Well, these boys do because they’re scouts. And not only Scouts but Scouts in the 1930s with stiff upper lips and very shiny knees.

Introduced by the editor of ‘The Scout’ magazine (scene stealing Mark Farrelly) the story begins at Croydon airport where the four boys are flying to India for a scout jamboree. When their plane is hijacked by a suicide bomber these plucky ‘boys of the empire’ are separated and plunged into a world of espionage full of characters with dodgy sounding names and accents.

This is essentially an extended sketch and as such there are many laughs to be had but they are unevenly spaced. Most of the puns would not be out of place in one of the bad Carry On films and, whilst performed with vigour, fall flat without an audience happy to titter or at the very least groan. There is fine physical comedy on display, however, and the combination of Mark Farrelly and Tim Welling switching between characters keeps the piece snappy.

The boys themselves all offer contrasting types of Scout and, whilst there is a temptation to overplay the zeal of the adventure, on the whole the performances are balanced and well executed. Christopher Birks displays an energy for the character of Dick that makes you tired just to watch him and is complimented by the understated performance of Alastair Mavor who takes his character, Lance, from boy to manhood in the course of the piece. Christopher Finn captures perfectly the innocence of schoolboy Donald Pretty and also makes the small cameo as the editor’s assistant a memorable part. The fourth boy in the troop, Henry Schmit, is played intelligently by Brage Bang who combines youthful enthusiasm with a fervour for order and discipline that offers food for thought when he compares the boys Scouts with the Hitler Youth.

Director Terrence Barton makes use of the whole stage area and the design team compliment his frenetic blocking with the use of cupboards and doorways hidden behind the massive map of British territories that covers the entire set. The use of Scouting songs is a nice atmospheric touch and lighting is used to good effect for the campsite, caves and my favourite ‘ night falls’ black out. Sometimes the old ones are the best!

Yes, it is a ripping yarn and golly gosh there is plenty to enjoy in such enthusiastic performances, yet this production would be a much zanier gang show if it was allowed to be such. A few references to modern politics do not make a satire and at times it is hard to tell where the irony lies with such earnest portrayals. However, this is a hearty evening of entertainment perfectly befitting this season of pantomime.

Until January 10th 2010

Reviewer: Amy Yorston