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Salomé

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Oscar Wilde wrote Salomé in Paris, 1891, in the heyday of the city’s fin-de-siecle symbolism movement. Based on a Biblical story, it is set in the hedonistic court of King Herod, who lusts after his beautiful stepdaughter Salomé. The resulting drama is a sparse but metaphor-sticky satire about unchecked sexuality and repressed passion, ending with the princess Salomé swinging the head of her desired: Herod’s prisoner, John the Baptist.

Wilde’s play has inspired several other iterations of the legend, and he was one of the first artists to provide his heroine with a will and passion of her own, manipulating her lecherous stepfather for her own gain. The ultimate femme fatale in a potent dramatic mix of sex and death, Salomé has since become something of a burlesque queer icon.

It’s that history which director Stephen Nicolazzo channels in Little Ones Theatre’s gender-bent reimagining of Wilde’s text, featuring Salomé (Paul Blenheim) as a petulant princess in a spangled matador’s outfit, and John the Baptist (Genevieve Giuffre) as a pop star idol meets televangelist.

Nicolazzo, who directed the equally high-camp Psycho Beach Party earlier this year, also wrings the comedy out of what Wilde called his “tragedy in one act.” The cross-gender casting (Herod and his wife are also drag acts, played by Alexandra Aldrich and Nick Pelomis, respectively) certainly aids this interpretation, but the ensemble amplifies Wilde’s lush writing to exaggerated comic effect with stylised physicality and often ironic line-readings of the queer subtext. Set designer Eugyeene Teh presents Herod’s court as a sickly green boudoir: the cast shuffle in and out behind taffeta curtains and John the Baptist is handcuffed with pearls.

This Salomé is emotionally slight, but stylistically extravagant and full of mirth. It shores up Little Ones Theatre’s interest in exploring sexuality and gender on stage, and flexes their talent for dramatic debauchery.

Little Ones Theatre’s Salomé is playing at Malthouse Theatre as part of Helium 2013 until 14 September. For more information and tickets visit: www.malthousetheatre.com.au


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