Another subject matter that doesn't seem an obvious choice for a musical, the Spanish Civil War forms the backdrop for Judith Johnson's Goodbye Barcelona. Starting at the Cable Street riots, standing up to the blackshirts gives idealistic East End Jewish boy Sammy (Tom Gill) a taste for fighting fascists and he soon signs up to join the International Brigade fighting Franco in Spain, alongside the requisite Emotionally Scarred Veteran (Mark Meadows) and The Cheeky Chappie One (Jack Shalloo - a performer I'm convinced I'd like a lot more if he could keep a straight face.) Sammy also gets a little romance with local girl Pilar, and Gill and Katie Bernstein are adorable together. His mother Rebecca (Lucy Bradshaw) misses her son so follows in the hope of finding him, becoming a nurse and falling for anarchist Ernesto (John Killoran) in the process.
Karen Rabinowitz's production features some strong performances and great singing voices, and there's rousing songs by K S Lewkowicz, but it is all terribly earnest. Though there's much of interest ("Factions," about the strain of countless opposing ideologies uniting only because of a common enemy, is a highlight,) a cast of characters all of whom passionately share the same beliefs does leave the story without many places to go (the enemy barely features for more than a few seconds.) It's not too much of a problem in the first act but the second suffers from a lengthy period where all the scenes and songs have the same gloomy tone as the fact that they're not going to win becomes apparent. Also, for a show supposedly celebrating the many nationalities of the volunteers, beyond a couple of mentions it focuses entirely on the English members of the Brigade. Still, while flawed there's certainly a lot to recommend the show, it's got its heart in the right place even if it's a bit too loath to explore beyond that place.
Goodbye Barcelona by Judith Johnson and K S Lewkowicz is booking until the 23rd of December at Arcola Studio 1.