Writers: Jack Nurse and Robbie Gordon
Director: Jack Nurse
Reviewer: Dominic Corr
We’ve all been down the pub with this motley crew; ‘the weeman’, ‘the radge’, a ‘non-voter’ and of course, ‘the Tory’. For these pals, this is a usual evening in the seaside town of Prestonpans. They do what all friends do; drink, banter, swear and snipe at one another. They complain about the state of the country, blaming one another’s political alliances or lack thereof. A hallowed reminder of the past, an all too forgotten war, draws them to hear of a mighty similar group of men from their companion Ellen.
In 1936, across Scotland, a collection of 549 men, some entirely different in their religion, class, ideology, found one common purpose: Equality and Freedom, no matter the nation. They would make for Spain and form the Scottish regiment of the International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War.
Wholly intimate, the production thrives on a smaller stage. The aggressive fire in the boys’ eyes has to be seen up close, any further and we would lose the quivers of fear in these young men. Jack Nurse’s direction puts the action as close to the audience as possible. Tables, chairs and crates which have previously made up the bar become barricades. Coasters are passports, and the lads take up arms with pool cues to make for inventive prop usage.
549: Scots of the Spanish Civil War is a production reliant on solid performers. It requires a connection, which Wonder Fools easily achieve. All of our performers portray two characters, their modern selves and a past counterpart. Such as Josh Whitelaw’s Jock, his modern self an irritated young man who cares for his mother. His past reflection, a man who strives for fresh air but has explosive bursts of repressed rage. Whitelaw gives a gut-wrenching performance, as do Robbie Gordon and Rebekah Lumsden.
As Ellen, barkeep and partial narrator, Lumsden has the task of setting our story in motion. Establishing the narrative well, her manner of delivery is humorous and earthy. She plays off the lads incredibly, going between friend, mother-figure and source of blunt honesty. Being at her wits end with Jimmy (Nicholas Ralph), she bridges the gaps in character development, so it doesn’t feel forced.
Lyrics and storytelling chain this production to memories, keeping it from being a ghost story. The song components offer a feeling of camaraderie. The rendition of a miners tune, sung in the round is breath-taking, but all the more haunting as we know learn fates.
While the majority of the scripting feels natural, there are a few situations in which they exaggerate for comedic effect. They stray just a tad too far from believable to dramatic. The only other hitch is one of pacing, Nurse and Robbie Gordon’s script could have been ten minutes shorter or extended into a Two Act production. There’s a split – for the history buffs, there’s a glossing over of the complexities of Spain’s Republic, for a general theatre-going audience what politics we cover is slows momentum.
549: Scots of The Spanish Civil War is not only a reminder of the past, but it’s also a staunch punch to the gut that the issues we suffer today are not dissimilar to previous generations. That despite differences from vocal minorities, now more than ever, the bad blood between young and old shouldn’t sour. That quite often we work for the same goals, especially in the fight of freedom, equality and our European neighbours.
Runs until 8 June 2019 then touring | Image: Contributed