Fists of Sulfur Zoo Southside

I read recently that ticket sales at some Fringe venues are up by 30% this year over last year. Well, judging by the pathetically small audiences at some of the theatres I’ve been to over the last two weeks, they are not flocking to see unfamiliar drama productions – I suspect that, as usual, it is the comedians and mainstream shows who are benefitting. I have nothing against either of those but I do think the whole point of the Fringe is to try something different and experience a whole range of events.

Last night was a case in point. Fists of Sulfur, or Pugni di Zolfo to give it its original Italian title, is an excellent one man play written, directed and starring Maurizio Lombardi. It was the winner of the Florence Fringe Award and has been brought to Edinburgh in collaboration with the Italian Cultural Institute. Lombardi pours his heart and soul into his performance and it is such a pity that so few were there to appreciate it.

The play was inspired by a 1953 poem, “A li matri de li carusi” by Sicilian poet Ignazio Buttatti, which pleads with the mothers of Sicily in the early 1900s not to sell their sons to labour in the sulphur mines. Better that they die than have to live their lives in that hellhole. Vincenzo is a boxer known as the Sicilian Bull, he has just been defeated and we see him bruised and bloodied in his dressing room being consoled by his trainer. He begins to reminisce about his boyhood and family in Sicily and gradually we learn that he himself was one of the “carusi”, the boys taken from their families from the age of 7 to work in the sulphur mines, backbreaking and soul destroying labour with a high mortality rate. The stage is bare but for a table – this serves as the trainer’s bench, a bed and most importantly, with the help of only a few candles, to recreate the claustrophobic and horrific conditions in the mine.

Lombardi plays all the parts, the grieving grandmother, the child victim Vito, the foreman, and it would have been a hard enough part to play in his own language but he does it all in English. At the end he recites in strong Sicilian dialect the poem on which the play is based and although we cannot understand the words the sentiments are obvious (and we get a translated version handed to us as we leave). Stirring stuff.

Irene Brownlee