01/06/2010 - 05/06/2010
Victoria Theatre students use Wilde’s words to explore real passion
A moon like a mad woman, a biblical beauty and a half-insane prophet; this production has all 300-level Victoria University theatre students ever dreamed of.
This June they will take their audience on a journey exploring the boundaries of love, desire and temptation, with their production of Salomé, the ancient biblical story of the Princess of Judea and the death of John the Baptist, reinterpreted by Oscar Wilde.
From the era of symbolism and Art Nouveau, this stylistic and beautiful drama tells the story of a woman who dared to be everything her society most desired and feared.
King Herod is hosting a banquet, and the beautiful Princess Salomé has fled to the terrace. But she cannot escape his lustful eyes, and, veiled like the moon in a violent sky, Salomé is forced to dance. But the moon is not tamed so easily, and from her damaged pride dreadful consequences ensue…
In Salomé, Wilde’s feelings towards the constraints of the oppressive society in which he lived are brought to the fore. Wilde uses the setting of biblical Judea to mirror his world of Victorian England and under the direction of course coordinator Anna Kamaralli and design coordinator Jim Davenport, the students are able view Salomé’s story through modern eyes.
300-level practical courses are the highlight of the Victoria theatre student’s undergraduate degree. This production is a collaboration of the THEA301 ‘Company’ and THEA324 ‘The Scenographic Imagination’ courses, with every element, save the directing, produced by the students. The production uses the entirety of the Studio 77 theatre space, and fills it with original soundscapes and projections.
“Wilde gives us a chance to hear what real passion sounds like.” says director and course coordinator Anna Kamaralli. “We have relished the opportunity to get these words onto the stage.”
What: Salomé by Oscar Wilde, directed by Anna Kamaralli, presented by THEA301 and THEA 324
When: Tuesday 1 June to Saturday 5 June, 7:30pm
Where: Studio 77, 77 Fairlie Terrace, Kelburn (Gate 10 of Victoria University)
Tickets: $8 unwaged and $15 waged
Bookings: email email@example.com or call (04) 463 5359.
Cassandra Philp, Jessie Robeson, Sam Steeds, Jane Wenley, Srini Twigley, Josh
McDonald, Joe Waymouth, Luwita Hana Randhawa, Cherie Le Quesne
A vivid unveiling
Review by John Smythe 03rd Jun 2010
Those used to the witty epigrams of Oscar Fingall O’Flahertie Wills Wilde need to cancel all expectations of such stylish humour when approaching his highly poetic and non-naturalistic Salomé. He wrote this one-act play the year after his sole novel The Picture of Dorian Gray was published (1890). The plays for which he is more famous followed.
Written in French – because Wilde admired the work and rationale of Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck who also wrote in French (as would Irish playwright Samuel Beckett, after them)* – it was published in England and France in 1893 with the now well-known Aubrey Beardsley illustrations. When Wilde’s lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, translated it into English, the dissatisfied playwright revised it extensively and the surviving version is regarded as his work.
But Britain’s Lord Chamberlain banned its performance in Great Britain. Sarah Bernhardt produced it in Paris in 1894, when Wilde was in prison, but it didn’t appear in London until June 1906, nearly six years after Wilde’s death and even then it was a private performance (for the Literary Theatre Society at Covent Garden’s King’s Hall). The ban was not lifted until 1931, and the first public performance in Britain was at the Savoy Theatre.
Written off by early critics as “little more than a pastiche of erotic psalmody”, its performance history has been erratic, varying from the deep reverence usually accorded a Greek tragedy to high camp Beardsley-influenced stagings. I’m pretty sure the German opera version, by Strauss, is taken very seriously.
For this Studio 77 production director Anna Kamaralli establishes the symbolist aesthetic and the love-sick tone with a chorus-rendered ‘Song of Songs’ from the Hebrew Bible, infusing English with touches of French and what I take to be Hebrew.
In the traverse setting lightly evoking a biblical Judea, as do the costumes, with symbolic rather than literal props (except for the fresh fruit) – another triumph for the new design course – the timelessness of ‘love’ in its most poetic and least rational behaviours sets the play forth on a strong yet floating thematic foundation.
Thus Narraboth, the Young Syrian captain of the guard, passionately portrayed by Stella Reid, is caught in the ever-flowing tide as he expresses his undying adulation of princess Salomé, despite the cautioning of his close and loyal friend, the Page (of Herodias), sincerely played by Cherie Le Quesne.
But Salomé – profoundly sensuous and very determined, as embodied by Susie Berry – only has eyes and feelings for the imprisoned prophet Jokanaan (a.k.a. John the Baptist), rendered clearly if a little too freshly by Annimeke Dabb. Despite the symbolic props, the self-impaling of Narraboth on a spear is a genuinely shocking moment.
Herod, King of Judea, in turn has an unhealthy love for Salomé, his step-daughter and niece: “Thou hast ravished my heart!” …
To counter-balance all the love, Jokanaan’s rantings about Salomé’s mother, Herodias, counted a daughter of iniquity and Sodom for having married her late husband’s brother (shades of male-dominant fundamentalism here, which makes me wish he’d been cast as male), foment a deep hatred in her. Katherine Jennings’ Herodias is also strong, sincere and deeply-felt.
This makes Daniel Emms’ rather camp and light-hearted Herod entertaining yet odd, as if he’d taken a wrong turning en route to Half Moon Street (i.e. Algernon’s flat in The Importance of Being Earnest). While there is always a danger of bathos in over-playing the superstitious fear, rooted in moral guilt, that causes him to vacillate wildly between being cold and hot, happy and sad, indulgent and ruthless, playing it like a drama queen craving attention at a party rather robs the play of a key dimension: his human fallibility as a supposedly all-powerful ruler.
To be fair, it is Herod who does get to utter a couple of Wildean epigrams late in the piece: one about the advisability of looking at mirrors rather than people; another about whether kings should ever give their word.
It is that his promise to give Salomé anything she asks for, if only she will dance for him, that leads to her demanding the head of Jokanaan on a plate, so that she can finally kiss the lips of which she has become so enamoured. And when she does, she seals her own demise – hence, the tragic heroine (her human flaw having lead directly to her own death).
A projection onto flimsy veils aloft cleverly evokes the moon within which a seductive dancer moves, while the dance of the seven veils itself includes the ensemble who variously partner Salomé to manifest the different dynamics of love: a memorable sequence.
Also impressive are the acrobatics, mostly performed by Theo Taylor who, with Danni Taylor, provides the comic relief as a pair of gormless soldiers who nevertheless bring an Everyman perspective to the increasingly bizarre proceedings. At the other end of the comedic spectrum, coarse acting conventions inform a trio of ancient Jewish adviser/ philosophers.
While the gender-neutral casting is standard for such student productions, seeing passionate love also expressed between two women and two men effectively connects the play to the love that tragically dared not speak its name in Wilde’s day.
Overall the intelligence of this company’s rendering of Salomé – underpinned by a level of research that may well exceed what many fulltime professionals would bring to it – vividly unveils this rarely-seen play.
– – – – – – – –
*Kamaralli advances an interesting theory in her programme note, that Wilde wanted to exploit “the aural pun that exists in French between love (l’amour) and death (la mort)”.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer