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May 31, 2010 | by  | in Theatre |
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Sex Sells in a Wilde World

Last Friday I sat down with Rachelle Fons, Cherie Le Quesne and Josh McDonald to hear the juicy details of the combined THEA 301 and 324 production of Oscar Wilde’s Salome. I would like to note here that I stumbled into Studio 77’s green room suffering the effects of Wellington’s horizontal rain and gale-force winds—to add to this I was totally unprepared save for my nerdy dictaphone. And they didn’t laugh at me—not once. I was even mercifully presented with a cup of tea. I know they’re actors—people hoping to make careers as professional liars, but I was most impressed. Anyway, to the point: before you continue reading you must immediately drop everything (scalding coffee, newborn child, priceless artefacts included) and book yourself a ticket to see Salome next week, go on… I’ll wait.


Done?

Good.

Chosen by their lecturer Anna Kamaralli for its intensely sexualised and decadent writing, Salome acts as a lens to observe the world through. Wilde’s writing doesn’t accept the dismissal and condemnation of anything considered risqué or debauched. In both Wilde’s contemporary society and indeed our own, sexuality and desirability are shoved in our faces constantly, expected even, but we aren’t supposed to acknowledge it as such. For a group of young adults, the issues of unrequited and forbidden loves, the pressures to be desirable without being threatening are common enough within everyday life. And through the words of Oscar Wilde they are able to present to an audience how truly weird these expectations and situations are. Free from censorship, this is also an opportunity to present the play as Wilde had intended it to be, rich and decadent in every detail.

The plot is sinister with intricate stories of unrequited loves, ill omens and incestuous debauchery—though not so dark that it lacks humour. Salome is the original femme fatale whose unrequited love for Jokanaan (John the Baptist) leads to some very dark deeds. It is the kind of story that you can interpret any way you desire, from hedonism to hilarity—take your pick. (Check out some of the summaries online if you wish to familiarise yourself with the play but haven’t got time to read the genuine article.)

The main revision of the play is the prologue, which has been created by Anna to highlight and demonstrate the (intentional) similarities between the Song of Songs (which is a book of the Hebrew Bible) and Wilde’s Salome. Though it wasn’t written by the students, they played a large part in the development of script, being given the opportunity to bring their individual talents to the table and create a highly personalised performance, a ‘visual feast’ if you will allow such a cliché phrase.

This particular production of Salome has left no stone unturned, the set creation by THEA 324 students was discussed with much enthusiasm, the strong influence of art-nuevo in the set and costume creation as well as the play itself has led to a decadent and darkly beautiful design—parts of which were described more as art installations than stage sets. Some actors have even been learning Hebrew; some have choreographed dances, conducted intense research into the society in which Wilde was presenting this play (though technically this is course requirement). They’ve played around with audience expectations and gender roles—so look out for these innovations, they are indeed intentional.

Finally, a few bonus words that should hopefully appeal to anyone not yet convinced: gender issues, role reversal, decapitation, John the Baptist, art installations, femme fatale, peacocks, debauchery, and lustrous language… interested?

Also check out this link to the sweet trailer they’ve made.

Salome is on at Studio 77, 77 Fairlie Tce at 7.30pm, 1 – 5 June 2010.
Tickets are $15/$8 and you should book by emailing theatre@vuw.ac.nz or calling (04) 463 5359.

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