Playwright Haley Cox chats about new play ‘Leave Hitler To Me, Lad’

Haley Cox is Artistic Director of Duckegg Theatre Company. She wrote and directed their latest family production, Leave Hitler To Me, Lad, which is currently on tour. 

IMG_0444Your play, Leave Hitler To Me, Lad, is about to make its West End debut – congratulations! Can you tell us about the show?

Thank you! Well, it’s a little known fact that during and after World War II there were many thousands of displaced children placed in the care of local councils. There’s a strong romantic image of the war ending and all evacuees heading back home into the arms of their parents; sadly this simply wasn’t always the case. The show follows the story of Brian, a 10 year old boy who grows up at ‘Great Stony School’, a residential childrens’ home, seven years after the end of World War II. He is one of three ‘war children’ left behind. It documents his relationships within the school with other children as they are discovered or left behind, his teacher and welfare officer as they struggle with their ‘in loco parentis’ status and eventually his family. It questions what a family truly is and examines the resilience of children facing terrible situations.

You have a very personal connection with the production, as it is based on true stories from your family’s life. What inspired you to turn their stories into Leave Hitler To Me, Lad? And what was your process for writing the play?

Yes, Brian is my Dad! I’ve always been fascinated with his stories of living at Great Stony School in Essex and the way the decisions his own Father made during the war still have an impact on the family even today. It’s been like a massive domino effect scaling over 70 years. I think that’s always an interesting concept; how a small decision can snowball.

I began by just chatting with my Dad over a cup of tea and letting him ramble about being naughty with his friend George, and Gladys the girl who kept them in line. We moved onto the Great Stony School building and found lots of old photos of the residential ‘cottages’ and this made him remember more – his welfare officer who was essentially his Mother replacement, his Headteacher who ruled with an iron fist but only for the good of the children. The story just came together around these chats and I realised it was actually something very special and an unknown take on the ‘World War II Children’s Production’ canon.

The show has a rock’n’roll soundtrack. Are you thinking about other elements of the production, like the music, or working with the composer, as you write? Does your involvement with the production end once you hand over the script?

I really wanted to get the feel of American music coming over the pond in the 50’s into the show. I met LA singer songwriter Ben Pringle (of band Nerf Herder who wrote and recorded the Buffy the Vampire Slayer theme ) when I was working as a barmaid as a student and he was in a touring band. I later worked in LA myself and we met up again. Eventually I started sharing my writing with him and he started contributing songs; it’s been an organic process. Though we work across the Atlantic we still work together! I am very hands on in the production, our team has a very collaborative feel and we are all invested in bringing this production together. The roles merge a lot.

For your theatre company, Duckegg, new writing for young people is at the heart of what you do. Why is it important to create original plays for a young audience?

I think there is a real lack of high quality theatre for the awkward pre-early teen age group. From working with our massive youth theatre I know first hand that young people like to be challenged by the arts and not have the tough issues hidden away and covered in glitter. Some of the best stories I read or watched as a kid always made me think or question what I thought I knew; theatre that doesn’t patronise young people and presents information to them as people rather than ‘little children who need to be protected’.

Is writing for young people different, and if so, how?

I actually don’t think it is too different. Young people are still people and still get a good story. I just try and see a situation through a child’s lens. It’s also very important to me in my productions that children are actually played by children, not young looking adults. I love working with the kids in the cast and they bring every show I work on a real life and energy that cannot be replicated.

What are you working on next?

I’m currently working on another show with Ben – The Star Child – which is a pop-punk musical exploring tensions between comprehensive and grammar schools in the 1970’s, and I’m also working on a piece based on the impact of music on the memories of Dementia suffererers.

Leave Hitler To Me, Lad is at the Arts Theatre 29th Sept – 18th Oct For more details, visit duckegg.org.uk and follow @DuckEggTheatre

Follow me @ctheatrereviews

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