Review: San Domino
Image: TKD Productions & M. Green Productions
Based on the reality of Mussolini's persecution of homosexuals, this is the story of men sentenced to five years confinement for degeneracy.
One night in 1939, Carlo, Claudio and friends are arrested in Catania.
Condemned without any trial, they arrive on San Domino: a prison island solely for gay men.
For all the indignity and squalor of prison life, men previously forced to live in the shadows now have no need to hide who they are.
But whatever kind of life they may be trying to build, in the background war is looming.
Actor-musicians conjure up an intimate tragi-comic world of love, loss and the struggle just to survive.
Post Show Events
Friday 8 June - Join the writers for a post show Q&A with Gianfranco Goretti and Tommaso Giartosio - Authors of La Cità e L'isola (the City and the Island): the history of Italian fascists' imprisonment of homosexuals from Catania on San Domino.
Saturday 9 June - Join the cast and creative team for a post show Q&A after the matinee performance hosted by the founder of WhatsOnStage.com, StageFaves.com and MyTheatreMates.com - Terri Paddock.
Saturday 23 June - Join the cast and creative team for a post show Q&A after the matinee performance with Sarah Day - Author of Mussolini's Island and science writer for the Geological Society
Tuesday 26 June - Join the cast and creative team for a post show Q&A hosted by Peter Tatchell, campaigner for human rights, democracy, global justice & LGBTI.
This is a story that rightly deserves to be heard - a group of gay men are condemned to live on a tiny island, isolated from the rest of society.
The men are rounded-up one night in 1939 during the reign of Mussolini in Italy.
Without fair judicial process, they have little chance of escaping their arbitrary, unjust imprisonment.
The company - photo by Rachael Cummings
That angle seems amply sufficient to drive a drama and to provide considerable tension in the development of individual character stories.
However, though this musical is well-honed and has considerable merit on numerous levels, it rarely engages the audience in a strong emotional connection with the characters or their predicament.
There are some similarities with the plot and format of San Domino and Arthur Miller's Incident at Vichy which was revived so effectively recently by Phil Wilmott at the Finborough Theatre and, later, in an extra run at the King's Head.
Both productions sport large casts who have to perform in a fairly cramped space and both sets of characters face incarceration at the hands of the authorities (and, in Miller's play, almost certain death).
In the case of Incident at Vichy, we were able to identify with the sheer terror facing the men in their situation.
But in San Domino we don't experience the same level of fear and impending doom, nor the despair of the situation, even if there are some moving moments.
The fault partly lies with the somewhat flaccid dialogue which fails to allow the characters to effectively describe their feelings or to punctuate the drama with much in the way of gay humour.
Andrew Pepper and David Gibbons - photo by Rachael Cummings
Faye Bradley's set is detailed and impressive, even if it doesn't quite describe the spartan dinginess one might expect from what is, after all, a prison camp.
The generally tuneful and melodic songs work best when the entire company sing as an ensemble - there's an especially evocative and haunting tune (The Ecstasy of St. Antonio) which kicks-off the final act.
And the small band under the commendable direction of James Cleeve includes Rosie Judge's fine violin and is augmented by actor musicians.
There's plenty of talent and strong performances from the sizeable cast, though the acting area offers a restrictive space for them to work in.
That suffices to indicate the claustrophobia of confinement, but there were times when the scenes needed more room to breathe.
I suspect that we've not heard the last from this musical for it's an intriguing and potentially compelling story which deserves a wider airing, though a larger venue would allow scope for improvement.
As it stands, there's an odd vacuum which prevents the audience being really drawn into and gripped by the plight of the characters' social isolation, and their resulting pain and anguish.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Tristan Bates Theatre
Our show listing for San Domino
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