Review: Leave Hitler To Me, Lad (Arts Theatre) JohnnyFox October 2, 2015 Musicals, Reviews, Theatre I love an untold story. And it’s beyond intriguing that seven years after the end of the second world war, there was a boarding school in Ongar full of evacuated children still uncollected by their families. Duckegg Productions‘ concept of expanding artistic director Haley Cox’s father’s personal memoir of Great Stony School with Youth Theatre volunteers playing the kids and professional actors busking the emerging sounds of 50’s skiffle music is inspired. Crowdfunded on a shoestring budget Leave Hitler To Me, Lad has been over-condensed for touring: it’s a misnomer to call ‘Upstairs At The Arts’ a theatre venue because it’s scarcely bigger than my living room and in fact my living room doesn’t have a whacking great iron pillar disguised as a tree in the middle of it masking all available sightlines. The cast, too has been pared to the bone and the four grown-ups double and treble roles to the point at which you’re never sure who anyone is. And while the women also make good musicians, only the men – Louis Labovitch and James Mountain – are competent character actors. However, the idea that not every child who got on a wartime train with a label attached to his gabardine raincoat came back soon or to a happy family is engrossing, and reminded me first of the superb Jack Rosenthal 1975 Play For Today The Evacuees in which Maureen Lipman’s two Jewish sons are boarded with an insensitive older gentile couple – in Margery Mason’s finest-ever characterization as the monstrous Mrs Graham – and then of what a wonderful musical it could make. In fact, I’d half written it in my head during the interminable dialogue pauses in the first half of Leave Hitler which moves at the speed of peristalsis, intermittently plopping out a compacted bolus of plot. We shift back and forth in time too much, and the Liverpool sub-plot is too crudely drawn but what the production really needs is both a more distinct and linear format, better direction, a separate band and a greatly expanded cast – it could work wonderfully by touring to regional venues each with their own youth theatres to fill the school yard with children and hopefully allow more age-appropriate adult casting. The three youngsters playing the evacuees: George Grattage, Sam Davies and Amy Leek were the saving grace of the whole show: it mostly comes alive when they are on stage, and Davies who plays George, the first-claimed of the children, certainly has the potential to be a very watchable and comic actor. The songs by Ben Pringle are so much more than punctuation, they carry the sentiment and purpose of the characters far better than the weak script. But the reason I’m not condemning this piece to two-star oblivion is that it has really great potential. Rewrite, and this time – think bigger.