Don’t you know there’s a war on? Scallyways presents an alternate history where the Nazis march in their hobnailed jackboots into Britain. Only the Auxiliary Units of 5,000 brave men and women can turn the Führer’s ambition back. It may sound like harrowing stuff, but this SOOP production plays it for laughs. Mostly.
The premise will be ringing bells for many of you. Captain Mainwaring and company trod similar territory in the late 60s with Dad’s Army. The comparison is a fair one with a lot of the humour coming from a rowdy music hall style, reminiscent of David Croft’s sensibilities. “All fur coats and no knickers,” being one of my favourite lines in the show.
Our band of misfit heroes is made up of: an outspoken aristocrat, a burly gamekeeper, a peachy keen boy scout, a major in deep cover, and the stuttering local dentist. You end up rooting for the lot of them as they go through a surprising amount of character development before the end. It is the classic tale of the hero answering the call, but you do get a real sense of how heroic they are.
They can stand up to Jerry and his Hitler-loving chums but they still struggle in their day to day lives. You can be trained how to lay a bomb that will castrate a man – ouch – but it doesn’t mean you’ll be any better at having your father respect you at home. The seeds of drama are sown in the first half, but they blossom in the second half when the tone of the piece shifts massively away from the raucous spoof of the start. When the Nazis arrive the ‘Scallywags’ have to do what they were trained for, and that isn’t making jokes. Only a joke about the Boy Scout’s woggle helped to relieve the tension.
The one problem is that the drama doesn’t go far enough for me. The best scene was comic and involved the aristocrat, Philip Donald, and his gamekeeper, Ed Owen-Jones, as they try to escape from their own emergency escape tunnel. It was comedy gold and a real turning point for the characters’ relationships with each other. The pay off for this new found camaraderie wasn’t deep enough for me later on.
What SOOP are very good at is their set pieces. These are littered through the performance and lend it energy and dynamism. Rachel Carter deserves a lot of credit for her fine work as musical director, creating the catchy motif that runs through the production. You will be humming her compositions all the way home.
I admire SOOP for putting on this production. Founded in 2008, they have worked closely with aspiring artists in their home of Hampshire and introduced them to touring theatre. Not a simple task at the best of times, but all the more impressive with the current economic climate. If it is something you have thought about doing yourself it will be encouraging to see it done so well here.
The obvious problem was the tendency of some actors to step on one another’s lines. They need a little more discipline imposed, and to take the time they need to deliver those lines – because they are funny and you want to hear them. I understand they want it to add to the chaos on stage, but that can be achieved without sacrificing clarity.
Whilst Scallywags is not perfect it is utterly charming. It is unabashedly British. The comedic influences drip from it and the simple story of patriotism and courage is very appealing right now. I am not privy to whether the members of SOOP are being paid but I imagine they are very much like the volunteers in the Auxiliary Units; meeting secretly in the evenings to do what they feel they have to. In their case that just happens to be acting.
Scallywags is playing at The Space until Saturday 20th October. For more information and tickets please see the Space website, http://space.org.uk/