Review: Goodbye Barcelona at the Arcola theatre, Hackney

Goodbye Barcelona pic: Simon Annand

Performed incorrectly, the story of Goodbye Barcelona could be a somewhat predictable one: boy goes to war, boy meets girl, boy is mentored by world-weary superior. However, director Karen Rabinowitz keeps things fresh by using the less well-trodden subject matter of the Spanish Civil War, of which this year marks the 75th anniversary.

The musical tells the story of Sammy (Tom Gill), an 18-year old with lofty socialist ideals who travels from London to Spain in 1936 as an International Brigadier to join the fight against Franco’s fascist forces. Inevitably there is a native love interest in the form of Pilar (Katie Bernstein), which runs a typically fraught course. However, the love story is demonstrated not just between a man and a woman, but also between a man and his politics.

Running alongside Sammy’s coming-of-age tale is the story of his mother, Rebecca (Lucy Bradshaw), a nurse who decides to join the battle for freedom in Spain as an attempt to find her son, attracting along the way an ageing anarchist admirer, Ernesto (John Killoran). Along with revealing a dark past, this character also provides much of the play’s warmth and humour. It is this strand of the plot that saves the play from being generic, allowing for genuine surprise from the audience.

This is Sammy’s story of growing up, being courageous and fighting for his beliefs. An apt play for a time when Europe was edging closer towards extreme right-wing values entering the mainstream. The play, probably unknowingly, reminds the audience of the importance in fighting against fascism- it has disastrous consequences for us all.

The music manages the difficult task of staying appropriate in the face of serious subject matter. Slightly Spanish-themed, it is not satirical or sarcastic as some may expect, but sits seamlessly alongside the dialogue. However, this is not to say that the play does not have its lighter moments.

Unlike so many war plays, the characters are genuine; amidst the tragedy there are glimpses of the real motives and desires of these people, fighting on principle in a war from which they and their homeland will not benefit. The writers, KS Lewkowicz and Judith Johnson, interviewed past International Brigadiers as research, and this shows throughout.

This is a musical that personalises the struggle of the left against the fascists; from anarchists to socialists and Marxists: it seems all aspects of the left are represented. It is not that the civil war becomes unimportant but that the musical seeks to remind the audience of what these people are fighting for- their belief in a certain way of politics and a certain way of life.

Goodbye Barcelona, Arcola Theatre Hackney, until December 23.

Call the box office on 020 7503 1646 or visit for booking and further details.

Reviewed by Raziye Akkoc and Helen Crane.

Leave a Reply