Stage Door News

Toronto: “The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff” has its North American premiere November 16-26

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

The North American premiere of The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff, November 16–27, 2022, is a rousing and inspired retelling of one man’s incredible journey. 

John Edward Longstaff (1919-2000) was an English anti-fascist activist in the 1930s who fought with the International Brigades. Born in Stockton-on-Tees in October 1919, his early life was marked by poverty. He recalled begging for bread from workers leaving the factories. He left school and worked in a foundry before being injured by hot metal, finding himself unemployed after recovery.

At the age of 15 he joined the 1934 hunger march to London. Despite initially being refused due to his age, he followed the march at a distance for a few days before being taken in. On arrival in London he witnessed police attacks on the march at Hyde Park. He found work and was involved in an industrial dispute around the YMCA in Tooting, which led to his involvement in organised labour movement politics.

He played a part in the Battle of Cable Street where he says he first learned of the war in Spain. He enlisted in the 15th International Brigade and left for Spain in September 1937. He fought in the Battle of Jarama and the July 1938 crossing of the Ebro, attempting to recapture Gandesa. On 24 August, while defending Hill 666 in the Serra de Pàndols near Gandesa under artillery bombardment and an attack by two rebel battalions, Longstaff was severely wounded and temporarily blinded.

He returned to the UK soon before the outbreak of the Second World War. He enlisted, despite being rejected at first because of his experience in Spain, and fought in North Africa and Italy, including the Battle of El Alamein and Monte Cassino. He became a sergeant and was awarded for gallantry.

He married in 1940, raised a family and worked as a civil servant after the war. 

An English anti-fascist activist, Johnny Longstaff was an ordinary man who achieved extraordinary things. From the working class, stricken by Depression-era poverty and in search of meaning, Longstaff participated in some of the most meaningful events of the 1930s. He rewrote history with his own hands for a story that is just as unbelievable as it is true.

Peppered with Longstaff’s actual voice recordings throughout the folk songs of the award-winning trio from Teesside, The Young’uns, witness his miraculous story come to life on stage.

Dates & Times:

November 16

7:30pm – Preview

November 17

7:30pm – Opening Night

November 18


November 19



November 20


November 25


November 26



Performances run for 110 minutes with a 20 minute intermission.


Harbourfront Centre Theatre

231 Queens Quay West

Toronto, Ontario


Photo: Johnny Longstaff.