The Theatreguide.London Review
Arcola Theatre Winter 2011
A respectful salute to the British volunteers who fought in the Spanish Civil War, this new musical constantly flirts with cliché, but strong songs and attractive performances keep it from tipping over, making for an engrossing and frequently moving evening.
(Quick history lesson for those under ninety: when a socialist government was elected in Spain in 1936, fascists led by Franco and supported by Germany and Italy staged a coup. Democratic loyalists were joined by thousand of volunteers from other countries in a losing battle against Franco that history books sometimes relegate to footnote status as a warm-up to the Second World War.)
Judith Johnson's book opens with a Jewish lad from London's East End (and therefore by definition a Socialist) driven by his sense of brotherhood to go and fight in Spain. There he meets a standard war-movie cast – the able leader, the cynical veteran, the jolly anarchist, the good Spanish girl driven to prostitution because she has a sick sister – and has all the predictable adventures.
If little in his story offers surprises, Johnson does introduce some unexpected twists as the lad's mother, moved by his letters from the front, also volunteers as a nurse and has her own dramatic plot line. And while you could probably predict from the start that someone we meet is going to be killed, you might not guess who, and Johnson makes that surprise believable and moving.
The songs by K S Lewkowicz naturally enough lean toward anthems, with the boy's stirring and heartfelt 'I Have To Go To Spain' setting the tone. If the harmonies and counterpoints of some of the big company anthems sometimes echo Les Miz's 'One Day More', Lewkowicz's versatility is nicely demonstrated in 'Factions', a patter song cataloguing all the leftest splinter groups who hate each other but hate fascists more, and the anarchist's song offering a potted history of modern Spain.
Given characters and plots that could easily slip into stereotypes and clichés, director Karen Rabinowitz and her strong cast go far toward fleshing them out and individualising them, with acting honours going to Tom Gill as the boy, John Killoran as the anarchist and Mark Meadows as the cynic.
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