views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Days of Hope
Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre
11th October 2013


Christopher Dingli as Carlos

Photography © David Ovenden

Given that it was first performed in 1990, Howard Goodall and Renata Allen's musical Days of Hope really isn't old enough to have been forgotten about. But it's not performed that often, and after seeing All Star Productions' take on it, I'm baffled as to why.

The story opens with a young man (Christopher Dingli) pondering why his parents never really talk about their wedding day. We're then taken back to Spain in 1939s, where his grandfather, Carlos (also played by Dingli) is planning to flee his beloved country with his wife Maria (Jo Wickham), daughter Sofia (Annie Kirkman) and his new son-in-law, Stanley (Rupert Baldwin). If it's not clear from the name, Stanley is the only non-Spaniard in the tale, an English volunteer who fought at Carlos' side in a losing battle against the Spanish Nationalists. Now in failing health, Carlos fears that his family's cards have been marked by his very public stance against fascism, and if they don't leave soon, he worries they will all be killed.

Allen's book may touch on politics and war, but it's very much about family, about the ties that bind and the ties that break. Carlos' niece, Teresa (Lydia Marcazzo), torn between her love for her uncle and her father - a supporter of General Franco - just wants life to be normal again. Carlos believes that Pablo (Alexander Barria), Teresa's future husband, is a coward for not joining the fight against Franco, whereas Maria thinks Pablo is sensible for not having shown his hand. Jose (Emanuel Alba) - another solider who fought alongside Carlos - believes that the war is not over and all Spaniards should bear arms. Look past the politics and what you have one big family row, a very relatable premise.

The first half is excellent, but it's not particularly affecting. But the second half is where you realise this has been a trick on Goodall and director Tim McArthur's part. Just as you relax, convinced this isn't going to be one of those shows that has you reaching for the hankies, Marcazzo, Wickham and Dingli team up to emotionally suckerpunch the audience in a heartbreaking scene of silent nods adding poignancy to subsequent grim twists of fate. The first time you hear the title song, Days of Hope, it sounds like a pleasant enough tune, delivered well by newlyweds Stanley and Sofia. However, when Carlos and Maria sing the same number, I defy you not to shed a tear, they pack so much significance into each word, it becomes a completely different piece.

Alexander Barria, Lydia Marcazzo and Christopher Dingli as Pablo, Teresa and Carlos

Photography © David Ovenden

It was extremely gratifying to watch Dingli give such a fantastic performance, given his previous work in a less than stellar comedy show. This time, he did bring the funny, through Carlos' antagonistic but loving relationship with Maria. He also brought deeper emotion, as a former solider and a dedicated family man. He had a strong voice, which he showed off in solo piece Antonio, a song about a child who believed he was invincible, yet who wasn't spared by the bloodshed.

Marcazzo was also a stand-out performer, giving a real sense of innocence and tragedy to her role as Teresa. I already knew she could sing beautifully from her performance in Rent, and she did nothing to change my previous judgement. But in truth, the entire cast are all extremely talented, with Market Day a highlight. Wickham leads this piece ably, but the support from the company is what makes it so engaging. The shift in tone and group movement combine for an utterly gripping number. The set is minimal, and the cast and orchestra both limited in size. We've previously seen All Star Productions stage shows with opulent sets, large ensembles and plenty more musicians. Here, the focus is a rustic, wooden dining table, with bright white lights aimed at it. There are only seven performers, and they're all dressed simply, the characters living in difficult times, after all. Musical director Aaron Clingham leads on piano, with Gareth Liekse and Keith Richard Herman on guitar, and Adam Storey on double bass. The use of acoustic strings gives a Spanish flavour to each song and also adds to the stripped back feel of the entire performance.

Annie Kirkman as Maria

Photography © David Ovenden

There's no trace of glitz and glamour, but what's left is honest and raw. There may be a grand total of 13 songs - 14 if you also include Stanley's rendition of Scarborough Fair - but Goodall's music and lyrics complement the piece rather than dominate it. In many musicals, the narrative feels like it's there to plug the gap between each big song, but here there's much more pure acting that justifies itself on its own terms.

Ye Olde Rose and Crown is a great theatre pub, and as a venue, I've only ever had one real criticism. The seating isn't normally all graduated, and this means some seats do have a restricted view, not ideal when the ticket pricing structure is equally flat. However, McArthur has decided to stage Days of Hope in the round, and this means that whilst every seat offers a slightly different perspective, there isn't a single bad seat in the house. The staging works very well with this specific production, given the action largely takes place around a large table, but more generally, it's a great way to use the room.

If a show is executed well, and moves you to tears, it's impossible to give it anything less than a perfect rating. It's a real shame that Days of Hope doesn't have a longer run, but with two five stars in a row, it's hard not to get excited about what resident company All Star Productions might do next.

Days of Hope ran from 8th to 18th October 2013 at Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Walthamstow Centre (Victoria)

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