Writers: Jack Nurse and Robbie Gordon
Director: Jack Nurse
Reviewer: Torran McEwan
It’s a night at the pub like any other. Four lads sit about debating politics and knocking back pints. Suddenly, the lights go out and a mysterious man appears. When the lights come back on, he’s gone, but his suitcase remains. Luckily Ellen, the bartender, has been researching this ghostly suitcase that won’t stay out her establishment. She’s about to take the lads on a journey through its owner’s history, whether they’re willing or not.
549: Scots of the Spanish Civil War is the story of the 549 Scots who joined the International Brigade to fight Franco during the Spanish Civil War. We follow the journey of four real-life Miners from Prestonpans and their fates when they join the fight in Spain. The depth of research that Jack Nurse and Robbie Gordon have undergone to write this piece is evident. Through storytelling, song, and physical theatre not only do we get an overview of the history, but details of the experience of fighting are vividly brought to life. The performances from the whole cast are heartfelt. It feels like great care is being taken to honour the real-life people they’re playing.
The stage design is remarkable. The audience enters the auditorium to find themselves in a very realistic pub. Thrust staging means it feels like we’re almost sat with the characters at the beginning. When the story kicks in, the set is pulled apart and put back together and relit to create everything from cells to trenches. Brilliantly executed, it’s a joy to watch the creativity of the set.
This is the fourth show to come from critically acclaimed theatre company Wonder Fools and a fantastic addition to the repertoire. 549 is more than a history piece, as care is taken to remind us of the parallels between the 1930s fight against fascism and today’s political landscape. At the end of the play, the ghost of George Watters explains that he still believes it was right to join the fight, despite his losses. We then see his modern equivalent running for MP in 2019. This play doesn’t just want us to remember and respect our history, it’s a call to arms and a timely reminder to always fight for what you believe in.
Runs until 17 February 2018 | Image: Jassy Earl