City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Stalag Happy Review

By Kenneth Scott - Posted on 09 August 2009

Fringe 2009: Stalag Happy
Show details
Third Man Productions
Running time: 
Edward Elks and Dan Frost (writers).
Edward Elks (Adrian / Tom / Stan), Dan Frost (Terry / Albert / Fred).

Stalag Happy is a little work of art.

This brilliant two-hander explores the true war-time experiences of famous abstract artists Sir Terry Frost (played by his grandson, Dan) and Adrian Heath (played by Edward Elks) as they use the powers of imagination and art to hold off the privations and mental stresses of a German prisoner of war camp.

Take your seat in the stark Nissen hut interior of the White Belly theatre as it becomes Stalag 383, the constrained world of 6000 troops – the show is about to begin.

And start with a show it does – a jolly variety theatre performance of the type that was central to camp life, a release valve and a chance to engage with normality and women (even if the women are men).  But behind the holiday camp style announcements there is the harsh reality of cold winters and men treated like cattle.

The meeting of Heath and Frost starts a sustaining friendship and a chance for Frost to learn the techniques of abstract art – a form seen by Hitler as degenerate.

Easy humour and crazy imaginings of trains to Margate, Christmas dinners and ideal girls with long legs are used to stave off the real madness of going “stalag happy”.  At the same time Heath’s periods of solitary confinement as a result of his constant escape attempts allows Elks to show a more brooding and understandably disturbed side.

It’s nicely staged within the already perfect setting, with moveable doors becoming beds, cell, theatre and train, and all punctuated by a soundtrack of (sometimes over-loud) big band music and Dennis Potteresque songs.

In addition to being testimony to the power of the human spirit it starts to make sense of the stiff upper lip attitude when the only alternatives were the remote chance of escape or madness.

Even if you don’t “get” modern art you will come away moved if not exactly happy.

Times: 6-16 and 18-30 August, 1.40pm.