San Domino ☆☆☆☆
Tristan Bates Theatre
San Domino is an extraordinary true story about how gay men in Italy were rounded up during the fascist pre-war period and sent to detention camps on the island fortress of San Domino. It’s a hot sultry night and Carlo is getting his club ready for another evening of music and dancing. We quickly understand this is a safe space for gay men and the question “Are you a musician too?” takes on a slightly different meaning here. When Lorenzo the rent boy (played with youthful but manipulative allure by Joe Etherington) turns up and tells Carlo that the dance halls are being raided we get our first scent of imminent danger.
This ragtag collection of men who meet for company, to bitch and gossip and hopefully something more include Antonio a deeply conflicted novice priest (played with depth and perspiration by Roger Parkins), Andrew an English tourist, Vittorio the teacher and Pietro the resident drag queen (Andrew Pepper – bringing a thread of energy to the piece that fizzes throughout).
Into this cozy set up marches the Chief of Police (played by Andrew Jardine – a man so handsome Queerguru honestly thought they’d ordered in a stripper for the evening’s entertainment). He promptly arrests them all and after a trial without a jury, they get packed off to an internment camp for gay men and other ‘degenerates’ on the island of San Domino in the Adriatic. They call this “Civil Death” and they sing ‘Why Like This’ a song that explores their self-doubt both as gay men and newly incarcerated prisoners.
Luca (played by Ross McKenna in an assured professional theatre debut) who earlier betrayed the group and has now been ostracised by most of the prisoners is later found hanging at the end of “Permission to Speak”. They muse on the cause: not just guilt over the betrayal but also the loss of Carlo’s friendship and trust (they used to be lovers). It’s an emotional torpedo and one that has a profound effect on the group as they sing the melodic elegy ‘Lucas Song’.
We now start to hear people call Pietro by her chosen drag queen name of Melissa. The death seems to be the catalyst that starts to create a bond of solidarity amongst the prisoners that had been so badly fractured by previous events and the horrific and broad sweep of fascism.
Actor Matthew Hendrickson deftly traces Carlo’s transformation from head-in-the-sand club owner to the stoic and principled group leader and eventually defiant (stronger-than-he-could-ever-have-believed-possible) survivor of torture.
Faye Bradley (set design and costume) does an extraordinary job of creating an atmospheric yet functional space for the actors that radiates southern Italian rural life.
San Domino is (too?) densely packed with themes and subplots (including a superfluous straight boy meets girl story, the mafia, the Catholic Church) but dexterous director Matthew Gould manages to keep the whole thing on the road with great casting but also clarity in the relationships between the characters. Composer Alan Whittaker has created a melodic yet varied score that allows Tim Anfilogoff’s often droll and sometimes emotionally searing lyrics to take full flight.
Not all the characters leave San Domino alive – this evocative production weaves the themes of love, loss, betrayal, and reconciliation and is a fitting testimony to their courage.
REVIEW: JONNY WARD
Jonny Ward, Queerguru London Correspondent is a drama graduate but has worked backstage for many years at venues such as The Royal Albert Hall, The 02, Southbank Centre and is currently at The National Theatre. He lives in Hoxton, London and is delighted to check out the latest, the hottest and the downright dodgy in queer culture for Queerguru. (P.S. He is currently single)
P.S. Check out Queerguri’s interview with director Matthew Gould HERE