Days of Hope

Howard Goodall, book by Renata Allen
King's Head Theatre
(2007)

Publicity photo

Civil wars are like violent volcanic eruptions which leave devastation but create a new reality. The Spanish Civil war, which spanned more than three bloody years, was no different. Like Vesuvius, it razed towns from the face of the earth. Unlike a volcanic eruption, war provides fertile ground for fanaticism, violence but also blasts of creative art.

Renata Allen's book and Howard Goodall's lyrics and music anchor in Spain's civil war at the point of Republican's defeat at the hands of Franco's well equipped army.

Love, affection, humour, anxiety and dreams of peace embrace the brutalised life of those who happened to believe they could defy the Franco and his Fascist and Nationalist army.

Goodall's lyrics and music fuse and almost organically integrate into the unfolding drama in the warmth of the simple front-room of Carlos and Maria, their newly wed daughter Sofia and their English son-in-law Stanley.

The audience are eased into the backdrop of the events taking place outside by the gentle musical interlude of the opening song 'In old Madrid', beautifully sung by the young couple, Stanley (Simon Thomas) and Maria (Amie Atkinson), joined by Teresa (Victoria Yeats), Sofia's young cousin.

In a front room, bearing the signs of the outside destruction and the family's deep-rooted Catholic affiliation, the family's matriarch Maria, performed with dignity by Siobhan McCarthy, wished her husband had stayed neutral, so that the family would not have to flee to England to escape the looming revenge from the triumphant Fascists.

Carlos, superbly performed by David Burt, oozes with affection and warmth for his family and life. His support for the loosing side left him injured and subjected the whole family to imminent danger of the Fascists' revenge, but is filled with humour. He calls for the two bottles of Rioja, stolen by Jose two years earlier from the cellar of the holy priest, Father Roman, to be retrieved. Though he swore not to let a drop pass his lips until the Fascist rebels had been defeated, he now concedes that it would be shame not to drink it and, after all, he would not wish General Franco to enjoy it.

The strong sense of the family's political inclination and deep socialist values are vented melodically and in conversation at a meagre dinner, punctuating hospitality and generosity of spirit. The Harvest Song where the Republic's achievements are movingly praised is sealed with 'Viva la revolucion'.

Historical landmarks and political perceptions are demonstrated in the musical composition as well as in the lyrics. The song of the Brigade sets the scene for the thousands of volunteers from Europe who came to support a hoped for victory. The lament at the British government's decision 'not to intervene' is powerfully expressed in the song of the English volunteer which leaves a sobering trail of conscience.

Teresa, impressively acted by Victoria Yates, is Carlos niece whose wealthy father supports Franco. In times of civil war, it is her father's betrayal that Carlos fears most.

Her fiancé is Pablo (James Russell) had sat on the fence, supporting neither side. In the brutal reality of war his inaction is construed as treachery by some fanatics on the loosing side.

The brutality of the war culminates in the revengeful killing by Jose (Matt Cross), a fanatic Republican, of Pablo (James Russell) who failed to support the cause.

Goodall's lyrics remind the viewers of the backlash resulting from the European states' inaction in the face of a rising tide of Fascism supported by the mighty Nazi Germany.

The music penetrates and moves without recourse to cheap sentimentality. The live piano and guitar accompaniment to the exquisite vocal ensemble is powerful and moving. Russell Labey's direction is superb in a seamless performance.

Must see!

Until 22 April.

Reviewer: Rivka Jacobson