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7 December 2011

Theatre review

Goodbye Barcelona

A musical to mark the 75th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War by KS Lewkowicz and Judith Johnson.

Tony Saunois

The idea of a musical commemorating the epic Spanish civil war (1936-39), and inspired by the heroism of the International Brigades may appear incongruous.

However, from the opening set in London's East End and the fight against Mosley's fascists, to the tragic ending as the heroic but defeated fighters who went to Spain, make their return journey to Britain, this is a vibrant, moving production.

It arouses the real spirit of internationalism that drew thousands of workers from many countries to sacrifice everything and rally to fight Spanish fascism. Portrayed through the eyes of Sammy and his mother Rebecca, the hopes and inspirations of the International Brigadistas are powerfully driven home by songs specially written for this production.

However, the reality of war - its hardships, suffering and sacrifices - are not absent. The assembling of the fighters, mainly drawn from working class families, is powerfully driven home during the opening numbers. "Dockers, miners and students", one of the early lines sung by the ensemble, leaves you in no doubt who fought.

Sammy, an 18 year old young socialist whose father was killed by the fascists in London joined up, lying about his age. He follows in his father's footsteps in a struggle to change society. The story unfolds through this lead character's youthful enthusiasm, doubts and renewed determination that what he is doing is right.

The political events during the Spanish revolution and differences between the various political trends which existed are hinted at but not developed. This is possibly the main weakness of this highly enjoyable and inspiring production.

To music the different political forces are mentioned. The Socialists (PSOE), the Communists, the CNT/FAI anarchists, POUM and Trotskyists are all mentioned but presented simply as forces which were split among themselves.

The Stalinists' pernicious role is hinted at but not developed. Neither is the social revolution really touched on as it is in Ken Loach's film 'Land and Freedom'.

However, the heroic role of the revolutionary workers of the anarchist organisations is portrayed by the determined worker Ernesto, who falls in love with Sammy's mother who had followed in search of her son, signing up as a nurse.

The western capitalist powers' role in refusing to send arms to the anti-fascist forces is sharply attacked.

Ernesto and the cynical non-party member Jack are critical of Russia's role. Ernesto alone brings out what drove the Spanish workers and poor to revolt during the revolution.

Pilar, who Sammy meets, becoming his Spanish lover, is eventually, driven to prostitution to try to pay for medical treatment for her daughter who tragically dies anyway. To find out who finally makes it home to London, go and see it.

What is lacking in political analysis of the different left-wing parties is compensated for in the portrayal of the sense of internationalism and justification that all the sacrifice involved was worth it. The reality of the war, the hunger, the absence of arms and the sheer exhaustion at different stages of the battles they are involved in means that these fighters' experiences are not romanticised.

Sammy, Jack and the others all have their moments of doubt. But all - even at the end as they are defeated - boldly proclaim that given the opportunity they would do it again.

As Rebecca suggests maybe they should never have come. Ernesto powerfully replies: "Never say that - the Spanish people will never forget what you people did".

This lively, enthusing and innovative production is a credit to both actors and writers. The use of the anthem the 'Internationale' - with changed words to depict different stages of the war is extremely effective. This powerful commemoration to the thousands of ordinary workers who formed the International Brigades on the anniversary of the Spanish civil war should definitely be seen if possible.

Running until 23 December at the Arcola Theatre, Dalston London E8.




http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/13300




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