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Salome by Oscar Wilde at Swan Theatre - RSC Review

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by Alison Brinkworth (subscribe)
Freelance journalist in Birmingham with a passion for the dynamic theatre, art, food and fashion scene in Britain's 'Second City'.
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Play Marks Decriminilisation Of Homosexuality In England
The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) has made a thoughtful choice to mark 50 years since decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales.

Salome is not just a play written by an author famed for being sentenced in court over his sexuality, this production also has a practically all-male cast with a young man playing the title role of the young princess.

Salome, RSC, Oscar Wilde,swan theatre
Matthew Tennyson plays Salome in the RSC production


This famous biblical tale of Salome by Oscar Wilde gets a reworking at the RSC's Swan Theatre in Stratford upon Avon, near Birmingham, until September 6.

Director Owen Horsley said he felt Wilde was writing the story from his own experience as a gay man, which has in turn shaped Horsley's tone and casting for this bold version.

You can see what Horsley means as the drama has homoerotic undertones while the language celebrates the male body. So, having a somewhat androgynous and very pretty, slight boy player as seductive Salome is a clever fit.

Salome, RSC, swan theatre
Matthew Pidgeon is an excellent lusty Herod


The story about Herod's stepdaughter who performs the notorious dance of the seven veils in order to demand the head of the man who rejected her is a pressure cooker of unrequited lust.

There's not just the unrealised desire of Salome for prophet Iokanaan, there's also Herod's unsavoury obsession with his stepdaughter and a young Syrian soldier's heartbroken affection for Salome.

Actor Matthew Tennyson as Salome totters around in pink heels and a little dress, delicately coquettish yet also with a touch of vulnerability. He toes the line well between being suitably alluring while also having an edge of danger.

The dance of the seven veils is a frenzied, hedonistic whirl of movement that climaxes with Tennyson's full frontal nudity as a lusty Herod looks on. I couldn't help thinking how Wilde would have been smiling at this interpretation and the artistic freedom now enjoyed more than a century on from his own censored period.

Salome, RSC, swan theatre
Salome is a fitting production to mark the decriminalisation anniversary of homosexuality


Wilde was convicted of gross indecency over a homosexual relationship and sentenced to two years hard labour several years after writing Salome. With this in mind, there's a poignancy and correlation between Wilde's own life and Salome's fate after she attracts disgust for publicly displaying her real desires.

Horsley seems to have shaped the production to have some tenderness towards Salome, maybe for this reason. He's also maintained its sense of experimental, modernist theatre and limited the amount of edits to Wilde's script.

Matthew Pidgeon is an excellent Herod, playing the leader full of bluster and bravado yet also unable to hide an unsettling, unhealthy obsession for Salome from even his wife (the only female in the cast, Suzanne Burden).

Meanwhile, imprisoned prophet Iokanaan is depicted as a worthy Adonis with much of the erotic language and imagery centred around his scenes. Actor Gavin Fowler climbs on to stage wearing only shorts and pours water over his head and muscled torso before shaking it off in scenes reminiscent of The Chippendales or maybe Poldark.

Salome, RSC, the swan theatre
Erotic scenes involving actor Gavin Fowler


It all adds up to make a cleverly reworked, modern, gay-friendly version of Salome.

Horsley has done particularly well to create a new striking production that manages to spark an air of excitement. It couldn't be more fitting as a way of marking such an important moment in English history.

RATING:

Salome
Swan Theatre, Waterside, Stratford upon Avon
Runs until September 6
For tickets, visit the RSC website or call the box office on 01789403493.

Performance time is 100 minutes with no interval.
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Why? Gay friendly version of Oscar Wilde play
When: Until September
Phone: 01789403493
Where: Swan Theatre, Waterside, Stratford upon Avon
Cost: From 6
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