There are so many books, films and productions about WWII, it’s hard to imagine a story that hasn’t been over-told, but Duck Egg Theatre Company have found one. Leave Hitler To Me, Lad is the tale of the war’s lost generation – the thousands of displaced evacuees who couldn’t go home after the conflict had ended. It’s a great central concept for an original play, but Leave Hitler To Me, Lad is full of too many ideas about how to tell it.
Brian thinks he remembers the last words his dad said before going to fight in the RAF: “Leave Hitler to me, lad. You ought to be out of London”. It’s 1952 now, and Brian is still under the care of the council, waiting for his dad to collect him. He’s not alone though – there’s his rabbit, Pandy, his friends, Gladys and George, his fatherly welfare officer, Mr Bill, and the strict headteacher, Miss Bates. Though the children muddle through with this unconventional family, they never stop longing for home – but when it arrives, it’s not everything they dreamed of.
It’s baffling now to think of the “parades” that children like Brian, Gladys and George endured – standing for inspection in the hope of being recognized, as adults looking for lost loved ones filed past. With barely more than a passing resemblance to a family member as proof, children could be whisked out of the care home and into a whole new life. Revelations like this make the play an interesting lesson in an under-explored moment in history.
Ultimately though, there is just too much going on. The action flips between the fifties and the seventies; an older Brian shadows his younger self, watching mournfully over what happens to him. We are taken from Essex to Barton, meet Brian’s ‘adopted’ family at Stony Brook School and extended family in the North. At first Brian is the protagonist, but the focus shifts to his sister Pam, and the production takes on an entirely different feel. Amongst all this are original songs by Ben Pringle, with close harmonies and rocking rhythms to replicate the music coming over from America at the time. While undoubtedly a highlight, their inclusion is confusing – too many to just be a soundtrack, but the production is definitely not a musical.
The creative team have thought up many different ways to make the show meaningful, but included all of them. In doing so, they’ve added so many layers it’s tricky to see the show’s emotional core. Leave Hitler To Me, Lad needs a bit more space, and to trust that the story is good enough to speak for itself.
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