549: Scots of the Spanish Civil War

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow

Neil Cooper, Four stars

Four lads play cards in a quiet pub in the town they’ve known since they were born. One of them plays guitar in the corner, plucking out the accidental soundtrack to their lives. Come last orders, and all these boys’ arguments forged by shared experience – working class Tory, socialist idealist, hot head looking for a way out, and apathetic cynic – will be forgotten, washed away at the bottom of a pint glass.

Eighty years before, a bunch of young men just like them took a different course of action, as is made clear when the ghost of old-timer George Watters wanders into Jack Nurse and Robbie Gordon’s new play for their increasingly expansive Wonder Fools company. Developed over an eighteen-month research period, Nurse and Gordon’s play gives voice to the 549 men who left Scotland in 1936 for Spain, where they fought against fascism with the International Brigades. This is done by having four of the six performers onstage embody the spirits of the Prestonpans-born quartet who joined up for very different reasons.

Produced in association with Citizens Theatre and the Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh, Nurse and Gordon’s piece at first looks like a reminiscence project writ large. Things quickly transcend by way of some fantastic set-pieces, which utilise choreography, music and pub furniture in a way that resembles Black Watch reimagined for a small town function room. Out of this comes a heartfelt tribute that’s full of warmth as it brings the fallen back to life to show the power of uniting against oppressive forces. There is much to learn here in a piece that puts faith in the belief that, despite all the bombs and bullets being thrown at you, the world really can be changed for the better.