Monday, January 28, 2013


Salome plays at the Tap Gallery in Darlinghurst from January 28 - February 3 2013. By Oscar Wilde, directed by Andrew O'Connell.

Salome is a difficult play. It is perhaps the most oblique of Oscar Wilde's plays, the meaning of the story of Salome, Herod, and John the Baptist not easy to parse. An interpretation of Wilde's dense text needs to be very carefully thought through, mined for meaning and relevance. Unfortunately, this thinking process is not evident in the production of Salome at the Tap Gallery, and it makes for a confused and stilted show.

I feel that for a show - particularly a show which is a revival or reinterpretation of an older text - to be really successful, there should be a compelling answer to the question, "why this show? why now?" I think there could be interesting answers to this in respect to Salome. Despite the fact it was written over a hundred years ago and set over two thousand years ago, it's not a text that is hopelessly outmoded or outdated. For me, the most immediately notable thing about it is its representation of female desire, and how it casts the desiring woman as both powerful and powerless. This is one possible project for the text, one possible lens via which it could be approached - by no means the only one. However, this production seemed to lack one altogether.

This was immediately obvious in the performances given by the actors. While they as individuals showed flashes of brilliance (though this show was definitely not the best showcase for their talents), there was no real sense of cohesiveness as an ensemble, of direction, of motivation. A lot of the time, I felt like they didn't understand what they were saying, especially in the larger context of the show. It meant that later parts of the show didn't make sense - for example, Salome's desire to see John dead and her declaration of love for him seemed odd, because the build up to it lacked emotional intensity. Motivations seemed to be missing. Several characters were stilted and wooden. This is not the fault of Wilde's text, but of interpretation.

This leads us to the direction. This is, I think, the major reason why the show did not work. It is the director's job to create the vision for the show, to steer it, to decide what project the show should have and make sure everyone - actors, designers, audience - knows what it is. This show didn't seem to know where it was going or what it wanted to do. There was no overarching, cohesive vision evident. The reading of the text was superficial at best and non-existent at worst.

There are other things I could say about the show. I could point out the anticlimactic portrayal of the text’s most iconic moment, Salome’s dance of the seven veils. I could discuss the efficacy of the theatrical device used to bring John’s head to Salome. I might even joke about how the two guards were dressed a little bit like the Dread Pirate Roberts. But there is little point discussing details when the overall interpretation of the text is so confused.

It's really difficult to write such harsh things about an independent show. I fully understand that huge amounts of work go into shows like this, often with very little reward. I am sure this show was a labour of love. However, this production of Salome is nowhere near ready for the stage. A great deal more thought needs to go into it, both about what it is trying to say and how this can be best communicated to an audience. There needs to be an answer to the question, "why this show? why now?" It needs a vision, a project: a direction.  

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jodi, just wanted to drop a comment to say that we thoroughly agreed with your review, very even handed. We also thought that a lot of heart had gone into the show, but that it lacked soul.

    Your fellow theatre bloggers.

    Sydney & Nathan