Stone Nest

Everyone’s favourite 1888 Welsh church-cum-hedonistic-nightclub-cum-theatre-space-cum-downstairs jazz venue plays host to what should be a pertinent evening of theatrical nuptials. “Should be” being the operative statement.

In 2015 two convicted criminals, Mikhail Gallatinov and Marc Goodwin married in a civil ceremony in Full Sutton prison in East Yorkshire. Despite bringing no practical change to their prison life, their past homophobic crimes are the tip of the iceberg for a complex piece of queer history. So, it makes sense that 8 or so years later a theatre company (Dante or Die) takes this tale of star-crossed (or bar-crossed) lovers on the road in a tour of ecclesiastic spaces.

Given the brutal and predatory nature of both of the men’s crimes, much of the story has been fictionalised, presumably to protect those affected. Nevertheless, this is a very thorny issue, needing a careful approach, concise writing and an appropriately nuanced lens.

Or you could just fill it with atrocious rap, dance scenes and glittering sequinned jackets. Yes, that’s right folks, it’s a musical. Put your tap shoes on over your orange jumpsuits and pas de bourree into a surreal blend of Chicago and Bad Girls. 

But let’s start with the good, brief though it may be. Sophie Neil’s set consists of white metal beds (donated by a closing prison) and appropriate costumes. Interesting use of strip lights, and LED wands from Joshua Gadsby make for a visually effective evening. Our leads, Jay (Dauda Ladejobi) and Paul (Graham Mackay-Bruce) craft intimacy well, almost tugging us into their romance, soft and sweet moments of quiet connection do lighting out of the otherwise drab sky. 

Yet Jay’s transformation from a homophobic father to be and fiancé to a happy gay man is rushed to the point of whiplash. Paul is a suave and savvy Scott who we only work out in the later days is a sadistic double murderer, but Jay romantically overlooks that fact (birds of a feather I guess). Musical narrator and lyric writer Lady Lykez has an arguably impossible task. A stunning singing voice, but every time she changes out of her multiple characters outfits into the aforementioned glitzy vest you know you’re in for simple rhymes and uncertain delivery. The edition of a ringmaster in such a serious and heartbreaking story means she floats around the action with little need or effect. “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” is the battle/homophobia scene, and an early song tries to capture the brutal homophobic murder one of the characters commits…by just repeating the slurs he screams…in song… yep that happened.

The cross-shaped stage suits the mathematical layout of a prison and gives lots of chances for interesting blocking choices and up-close views of the action. But the domed roof (poor man’s Pantheon) of Stone Nest is as impressive in its stripped grandeur as it is echoey and unwieldy as a theatrical venue. Much better suited to choral, dance or experimental pieces rather than intimacy between inmates.

Directors/writers Daphna Attias and Terry O’Donovan with extra written help from James Baldwin (no relation and still alive) have taken a swing at a fascinating story and swung wide. Surely the pernicious ability of internalised homophobia to make someone hate themselves so much that on Blackpool seafront they beat another gay man to death is the core of the story? Even if you take the real events as a starting point for your own interpretation, this can never be a classic tale of love conquers all. There is an attempt at balance with a scene between the victim’s husband (a heart-wrenching Dean Statham) and Jay that has kernels of verisimilitude but is drowned in the music, dance sequences and mushiness between the two leads.

I believe in redemption, gay rights (just ask my boyfriend) and rehabilitation. But Kiss, Marry, Kill lives up to its title’s simplicity with its childish deconstruction of the issues at play. I believe that the hearts of the creatives were in the right place, and the piece is heavily researched but the focus on romantic love over psychological examination has led everyone in an odd direction. This Disney-fied Chicago-via-East Yorkshire is less “he had it coming” and more “oh god why are we singing”.

See the stunning ex-church yourself, and see what’s on next here!