The leitmotifs of the Lazarus canon shine brightly in their interpretation of Oscar Wilde’s scandalous 19th century play Salomé. The thumping soundscape; stark white pools of light; men in suits and ties, Dadaistic set design... and a distinct lack of footwear. Also key to the Lazarus signature is playing with gender in their casting choices, and changing the sex of the eponymous character to a man in this play makes one helluva statement.
As a piece of art, this is solid.
Wilde found his inspiration from the Biblical tale of the stepdaughter of Herod who pleased him so much in her dance he offered her anything she wished, up to half his kingdom – but what she asked for was the head of John the Baptist on a silver platter. Wilde changes John the Baptist to a prophet named Jokanaan and whereas Bibically Herod promises up to half his kingdom after the dance has been performed, Wilde makes this a desperate – if not slightly unsettling – offer if the dance will be performed.
So, with the gender switch and present-day setting, the basic story is a politician who wants to watch his narcissistic stepson strip naked, and is willing to commit murder for the chance of a wank. Make your own gags about relevance in today’s society, folks.
Wilde’s text is Shakespearian in tone, but simpler and a lot more repetitive. If it’s worth saying, it’s worth saying five or six times; but then Wilde had to flesh out a story that only took about eight lines in the Gospel of Mark. Director Ricky Dukes makes minor changes, necessitated by the distilled cast of nine, and sprinkles contemporary language to reinforce the point this is 2019 and not AD 72. The headline here, however, is Salomé as a male. It really changes how you perceive Herod’s obsession and Salomé’s manipulation.
In the title role Bailey Pilbeam is spot on. Peacocking the stage knowing he’s the most beautiful person in the room, and with the physical attributes to back up those beliefs in the highly intense dance scene. Jamie O’Neill’s Herod is in brilliant discord, from powerful leader to grovelling degenerate, delivering Wilde’s poetry with confidence. Herod’s long-suffering wife Herodias (Annemarie Anang) deals with her impossible situation admirably, stoic in the face of a husband who openly flaunts his carnal desire for her son.
Beyond that, sadly, the characters get a little lost. Jokanaan (Jamal Renaldo) delivers most of his lines from the shadows. A young soldier (Michael Howlett) starts off being obsessed with Salomé, shoots himself in a fit of jealousy and then pads around the stage as a spectre. I’m guessing this relates to the Biblical references of raising the dead, but it wasn’t exactly clear why this needed to be so literal. Ancillary players don’t get enough meat from the script to become much more than furniture movers and line support. I guess if Wilde couldn’t be bothered to name them, we shouldn’t be surprised.
As a piece of art, this is solid. Just don’t pick away at the threads of this Biblical tale set in modern times too much, as it may just fall apart. I thoroughly enjoyed Lazarus’s trademark Brechtian approach to an Oscar Wilde classic, and if you can see it for what it is, so will you.