The Good Scout
Boys of the Empire Productions
Above the Stag Theatre (Studio Theatre)
In 1936, Joachim von Ribbentrop became Germany’s ambassador to the United Kingdom with instructions to negotiate an Anglo-German alliance. He didn’t succeed but there were some in high places who seemed to think highly of Hitler. Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scout movement, was an admirer of Mussolini and had described Mein Kampf as “A wonderful book with good ideas… and ideals” though adding, “that Hitler does not practice himself.”
When they met, and despite the fact that Hitler had banned the Boy Scouts in Germany and integrated all such movements into his own Hitlerjugend, they agreed on the idea of Scout visits to Germany and of Hitler Youth groups to Britain. Glen Chandler’s new play (making its London debut after an Edinburgh première) presents us with a pair of Rover Scouts, Will Parrish and his friend Jacob Collier are playing host to Hitler Youth members Gerhard Klee man and Friedrich Doff who are staying at Will’s house on one of these exchanges which, ironically it may seem now, were described as "peace and friendship tours".
With their black uniforms and swastika armbands now so loaded with significance, Gerhard is indeed a staunch Nazi, even springing up with a smart “Heil Hitler!” in response to the Führer’s appearance in a newsreel they all see in a cinema. Friedrich is a more reluctant adherent of whom his companion is protective, though he’d put obeying the Fatherland above friendship.
Rover Scouts were usually at least 17 and, since Will’s father was killed in the First World War, he must be at least that old and he is already working for a local newspaper but he and his friend seem very un-grown-up, still going off to a den they have built on an old airfield. Though they put on a skit about Hitler in a school show and one of them talks of going off to fight for the republicans in Spain, Jacob seems to finds the Germans’ uniforms and swastika armbands glamorous and perhaps Gerhard too.
When a man calling himself John Dory (Lewis Allcock) turns up claiming to be a friend of Will’s uncle and telling him that Germany is using their visitors as spies and producing as evidence a German magazine which asks those cycling overseas to make careful notes of landmarks and roads which “night one day be of use to the Fatherland,” things take on a new perspective. What had Gerhard been photographing? Who could be trusted?
This is a story with several twists and a homosexual undercurrent of which Mrs Parrish, played with great warmth by Amanda Bailey, shows a sensitive understanding gained from knowing the closeness her husband had with a fellow soldier. Her son Will seems both blind and bigoted; it turns out he reported a teacher’s apparent misconduct. But his attitudes were accepted ones: homosexuality was then illegal in Britain and in Germany being gay was doubly dangerous (even though it seems to have been rife in some sections of the Nazi movement). This side of the story is sensitively handled and the four young men are well played. The apparent immaturity of Daniel Cornish and Charlie Mackay’s Will and Jacob contrasts well with the experience of Clement Lohr’s arrogant Gerhard and Simon Stache’s more fearful Friedrich.
The Good Scout may be fiction but it is based on fact and Chandler places it in history with a series of satirical sketches in which all the cast double. As well as an opening meeting between Baden-Powell and Ribbentrop, they include key events featuring Lord Halifax, Neville Chamberlain, Daladier, Mussolini, a dove-bearing Hitler and the Munich Conference presented as a bier fest. Their campness slightly dulls their political edge but their machinations are matched in microcosm in the scouts’ story.
This is interesting sidelight on the lead up to war that is subtly mixed with a picture of young men at a time when sexuality wasn’t a subject to be talked about. It is well worth seeing.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton