Banned before it could even be performed in late nineteenth-century England, Oscar Wilde’s drama Salome tells the story of the sexual self-discovery of the biblical princess of Judea. The unwilling object of the attentions of her stepfather, the Tetrarch Herod Antipas, Salome finds herself increasingly obsessed with the figure of John the Baptist. The day before its first run, Impact sat down with producer Rose Edgeworth and actor Yasmine Dankwah to discuss Wilde’s controversial tale of fatal sexuality.
With its focus on a range of moral questions that still resonate today, it was the sheer adaptability of Salome that first drew the team to the script. As Edgeworth explains: “I thought it was a great play because for starters the language is beautiful, but also it leaves a lot of room for interpretation. You can really put your own spin on it without having to change a word of the text”.
The all too contemporary theme of sexual desire and objectification stood out to the cast immediately. “We’re also trying to use Salome as a character who relates to the recent themes of sexual harassment”, Edgeworth continues. “Salome is an extreme example of somebody reacting to that. She’s a representation of the anger someone would feel when in that situation”.
“Salome adopts a distinctly new approach”
Whilst ideas of sexuality and harassment have been explored by several NNT productions this season, Salome adopts a distinctly new approach. “We also wanted to show it from the male point of view”, she explains. “There are parts when Salome sees Jokanaan – or John the Baptist – and is basically objectifying him. We wanted to show that this works both ways”.
This alternative approach to Salome is perhaps most clearly visible in this production’s take on the Dance of the Seven Veils, the now infamous dance associated with seduction that the princess performs for Herod.
“I would say that our version of the Dance of the Seven Veils is quite aggressive and empowering”, explains Dankwah. “But at the same time it fits in with the theme of going after things regardless of how good or bad the consequences may be”.
“Wilde’s play lends itself well to rich visual effects”
Another aspect of the play that the team have picked up on is the undertones of homosexuality that run throughout the script. Wilde, whose career was cut short by his trial for ‘gross indecency’ in 1895, is believed by many to have included an undercurrent of illicit love in his works.
“A lot of people think that Salome was written by Wilde to express his repressed homosexuality”, considers Edgeworth. “There are two characters called Narraboth and the Page who clearly have a very close relationship in the play. We’ve cast them both as female and have tried to make their relationship as ostensibly romantic as possible, to keep that element”.
As Dankwah notes, this sentiment is clear in the physicality of the characters: “It’s been interesting to see how everyone interacts with their given characters. There’s quite a strong physical aspect to it, particularly when you see how the relationship between the Page and Narraboth develops”.
However, a production like Salome requires more than just an appeal to morality – it must be visually stunning as well. Awash with orientalist indulgence and late Victorian symbolism, Wilde’s play lends itself well to rich visual effects.
“Salome promises to be a unique exploration of the savagery of unbridled desire”
“We’ve tried to go for a theme of decadence and the dangers that excessive extravagance can bring”, Edgeworth points out. “For example, we’re doing some really interesting stuff with projections, this time onto fabric rather than a screen”.
“We’re really trying to make the play visually exciting because that’s what sticks in people’s minds later on. That’s why we went for this theme of gold-covered decadence”.
For the production team, the almost hedonistic aspect of the set is the perfect complement to the uncontrolled passion of the script. Dark, sensual and violently uncompromising, Salome promises to be a unique exploration of the savagery of unbridled desire.
Salome is on at the Nottingham New Theatre 2-5 May.
Featured image courtesy of Nottingham New Theatre.
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in the play, Nottingham Nightline are available to provide a free and confidential listening service: 0115 951 4985.