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San Domino review at Tristan Bates Theatre, London – ‘fascinating slice of queer history’

Cast of San Domino. Photo: Rachael Cummings Cast of San Domino. Photo: Rachael Cummings
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In Italy in 1938, fuelled by Mussolini’s obsession with maintaining a pure and healthy race, known and suspected homosexuals were rounded up and sentenced to exile on island prisons. While this form of punishment brought great shame it also paradoxically created an environment of freedom, where gay men no longer needed to hide their true nature.

This fascinating slice of queer Italian history is the subject of Tim Anfilogoff and Alan Whittaker’s new musical San Domino, following a group of prisoners as they are arrested, summarily tried and shipped to the rather picturesque desert island. There’s quite a mixed bunch including a British sex-tourist, a priest, a drag queen and a straight guy who simply turned up at the wrong bar on the wrong night.

Anfilogoff’s book may suffer from some very awkward exposition to begin with but ultimately his story is bursting with heart, tempering some shocking drama with moments of genuine delight.

Whittaker’s score has a faintly sentimental rustic vibe, with touches of cabaret along the way but the narrative numbers sit uneasily in the book and all too often Anfilogoff’s lyrics don’t bear too much scrutiny.

That said, this is a captivating story featuring some touching, earnest performances, notably from Alexander Hulme as the pragmatic barman Claudio and Matthew Hendrickson as his lover Carlo.

San Domino may not be perfect but it has a great deal of potential and while Matthew Gould’s direction is fairly solid, this narrative may benefit from a more fluid interpretation.

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Flawed musical, but a fascinating slice of queer history