Quiz question inspires new war-themed play

SOOP's brand new show, Scallywag, premieres at the Groundlings Theatre, Portsea on April 28.
SOOP's brand new show, Scallywag, premieres at the Groundlings Theatre, Portsea on April 28.
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With underground bases across the country and secret agents, the Second World War has hidden tales and stories that are like something out of an Ian Fleming novel.

One such group of agents were the nicknamed Scallywags that were recruited to protect the country against a possible Nazi invasion – and theatre company SOOP is bringing their story to the stage.

The Havant-based company is taking the production, aptly entitled Scallywag, on a national tour at venues in Brighton, Buxton and Oxford, with its première at the Groundlings Theatre, Portsea on April 28.

Directing the production is Nathan Chapman. He says: ‘The Auxiliary Units were no Dad’s Army – they were guerilla soldiers, trained in sabotage and silent assassination – and if they were ever caught, the expectation was that they would be killed.

‘The challenge with our show is to balance the light-hearted anecdotes with the gravity of the work the Scallywags were expected to do. To get this balance right, we are asking “What if Germany did occupy Britain?”’

But the play is a light-hearted approach to the history.

Nathan adds: ‘It sounds like a pretty dark subject, but actually the stories surrounding the Scallywags have that quintessentially British humorous quality.’

With a mix of physical theatre, puppetry and live music, the production will look at the tales of the wartime men, with recruitment in post offices and rollerskating Boy Scouts.

But instead of portraying the good and evil side with the British and the Nazis, SOOP focuses on the enemy already in our country, with William Joyce (Lord Haw Haw).

Nathan says: ‘It’s easy to get trapped in the whole “Germans as bad guys” thing but in reality fascism at that time came from all quarters. Joyce was an Irish-American with a distinctive RP accent.

‘He became the “English” voice of pro-Nazi propaganda through his radio broadcasts. He is a sinister presence in the show, in every sense a puppet of the regime, but not one to be underestimated.’

But the inspiration for the show only came after Nathan was watching an episode of QI on TV, and a question on the Scallywags cropped up.

He says: ‘I was immediately fascinated by these people, their innocuous name, the extraordinary part they played in Britain’s war preparations, and I straight away saw the potential for a great story.

‘There were certainly Operational Bases for the Auxiliary Units in the area – one is confirmed as being in Littlepark Wood, which is just behind South Downs College.’

n Tickets cost £9 to £12 from the Groundlings Theatre, Portsea on (023) 9273 7370 or go to groundlings.co.uk