What a transformation Ye Olde Rose and Crown have made for their latest production of Howard Goodall's Days of Hope based on a book by Renata Allen. With audience seated on four sides, this in-the-round formation fells like we're invited, invisibly, into the intimate dining area of a Spanish family during the closing moments of the Spanish Civil War in 1939.

Ella Marie Fowler's simple set of a table and six chairs and a handful of props (but plenty of beans) is sufficient as the story and the interaction of characters is key – and what a well defined set of characters they are. Carlos (Christopher Dingli) and Maria (Jo Wickham) are celebrating daughter Sofia's (Annie Kirkman) wedding to Stanley (Rupert Baldwin), an English volunteer over to help the Republican cause. This 'last supper' becomes both joyous and poignant as they are about to flee their home from the onslaught of Franco's militant forces for a better life in Scarborough, Stanley's home town! Embroiled in this drama are also Theresa (Lydia Marcazzó), Carlos' neice and her love interest Pablo (Alexander Barria), who is something of a pacifist – not being with the cause, he's against the cause – with rival Jose (Emanuel Alba) destined to settle scores for political reason alone.

Director Tim McArthur has clearly been impassioned by this piece and although I'm tempted to quibble about one of two incidences of casting under-age, there is no doubt the talent was exploited to the maximum. The opening number 'Days of Hope' is a touching and sensitive duet for the young couple and Kirkman and Baldwin display their love with a beautifully choreographed sequence. Baldwin in his solo Act I closing number, 'Song of the English Volunteer', hauntingly reminisces of home but his voice needs a little more strength to match the solidity of the others.

Barria impresses with his pure tones, switching with ease to an operatic sound and in 'Democracy' this becomes a sextet of velvet voices. In addition, a (thankfully not over-choreographed) flamenco-style 'Say Gypsy Say' gives the three girls a chance to show off their collective moves. Kirkman and Marcazzó also perform a sweet sad duet, 'Lorca', as the cousins bid a fond farwell to each other.

Wickham kicks off Act II with the effervescent 'Market Day' but it's mostly in the ensemble numbers, such as 'Harvest' and 'If Not Today', that the basic but nevertheless glorious harmonies emerge and the company produce a vibrant sound positioned around the central courtyard-type space, none moreso than in the finely drilled 'Long Live Death'. Dingli, however, is astounding as the sometimes deranged and puerile patriarch but utterly credible as his world falls apart, heartbreakingly depicted in the closing lament 'Antonio' just before he and Wickham mirror the opening with a reprise of the title song with such passion that several audience members could be heard sobbing and sniffling.

Goodall's musical signature is prevalent throughout, although one would only really appreciate this having heard some of his other works – he is still one of this country's lesser known and understated musical composers in my opinion; probably most famous for TV theme tunes such as Blackadder and The Vicar of Dibley or for presenting.

Whilst his lyrics aren't as punchy and clever as Sondheim's, he does have a unique way of charming us with expected and predictable rhyming verses. But it is indeed his music which stands out; with it's mix of hypnotic rhythm and melancholic nostalgia it is very easy on the ear. Musical Director Aaron Clingham has, once again, surpassed himself by assembling a cut-down orchestra of just four instruments (piano, double-bass and two Spanish guitars), which give a full-bodied Iberian sound and provide a perfect balance in the space.

Days of Hope, at Ye Olde Rose and Crown

All Star Productions proves yet again that artistic integrity comes first in this captivating tale of a country at war with itself and the familial bonds that have to be broken and resolved for want of a better life.  It's heartwarming and tragic but ultimately fulfilling.  At Ye Olde Rose and Crown.

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