Monday, June 5, 2017

Salomé - Oscar Wilde

It's all about Rome this season at the RSC, which I'm not particularly enthusiastic about - at least neither R or I have found ourselves enthusiastic enough to commit to organising times, tickets, travel etc - but we've been missing Stratford trips so we decided we would see Salomé.

The last time I saw Salomé performed it was in Leicester, it's the only time I've ever managed to get D into a theatre, and it was the worst (that includes an amateur production of Romeo and Juliet) production I've ever seen. He has point blank refused to make a second attempt to see anything, which is a shame, but it was so bad it's almost understandable.

This time was better, but R and I still have some doubts about it.

For me the problem is that when I read Salomé what I find interesting about it is that Wilde has a young girl first of all expressing her desires, and when she's denied exacting a terrible revenge. It's still relevant because on the whole I don't see much evidence to suggest that as a society we're terribly comfortable with women, especially young women, expressing their desires or sexuality as blatantly as this. Salomé's demand for the head of John the Baptist is still shocking because it's really not how we expect women to behave.

This production particularly wants to look at the play through a gay lense, its marking 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Britain, and it casts a young man as Salomé. The director, Owen Horsley, explains this decision:

"The figure of Salomé is a taboo as she transgresses the boundaries of both male and female sexuality. I wanted to focus on that ambiguity of gender and, as I am approaching this from the perspective of male sexuality, I wanted a man to play the role. Salomé will - through costume and actions - continually juxtapose male and female conceptions, remaining fluid throughout. When a man expresses fluidity with their sexuality, there is still a chaos and anger in respond to that. A gay man who doesn't feminise or masculinise his sexuality still faces problems in a society that can't understand or accept that ambiguity."

All of which is fair enough except that watching/listening to a man express his sexual desire, and then reacting with such violence when he's denied didn't feel transgressive, it felt depressingly normal. I also found Matthew Tennyson's Salomé mostly asexual rather than fluid. He was most convincing when he was briefly naked (and excellent in the last scene with the bloody head of Iokanaan cradled in his lap).

Basically it didn't really work for us, but then both R, and I would have been much more interested in a play that explicitly explored why we're still so uncomfortable with female sexuality and identity, so we weren't the most sympathetic audience.


  1. It does sound like an interesting approach; what a shame it didn't live up to expectations.

    'watching/listening to a man express his sexual desire, and then reacting with such violence when he's denied didn't feel transgressive, it felt depressingly normal' - such a good point.

  2. It is an interesting approach, and whilst it didn't quite come together for me I'm looking forward to seeing the reviews in a week or so (this was a preview performance). I've seen some enthusiastic tweets which suggest that some others have had a much more positive response to it than we did. It's also part of the appeal of theatre that it can confound my expectations of a peice that I think I'm reasonably familiar with - only to find others have found something entirely different in it. Also we had standing tickets at the top at the back so they only cost us £5 so it was an absolute bargain.