Monday, 7 June 2010

Salome on a doughnut

This was one of my mother's more incomprehensible expressions - used, I think, to mean something overdressed. She would not have been able to use it about the Oxford Playhouse version of Oscar Wilde's play, Salome, I saw last Friday.

It is possibly unstageable. I read it as a teenager, which is when when should read all those decadents like Huysmans and Wilde and look at Aubrey Beardsley's magnificently over-the-top illustrations and pine for a life that is gloriously fin-de-siecle.

It is the basis of Richard Strauss's fine impressionist opera of the same name, where you would certainly learn that the name was pronounced SAHlomay and not, as in my mother's phrase SahLOHmee.

Wilde wrote it in French and got his boyfriend, "Bosie", to translate it into English but Lord Alfred Douglas wasn't quite up to it and Wilde had to tidy up his version. It is very rarely performed.

So husband and I took the chance to see both the play and the opera in subsequent months and have been to see the play. A sign in the foyer said in contained "Adult themes". I wanted to cross out "adult" and substitute 'puerile" in marker pen on the way out.

For yes, you've guessed it, the production was of the "pee, po, belly, bum, drawers" school immortalised in Flanders and Swann's "Let's talk rude" or, in this case "let's act rude." Will blogger let me say it was a w***fest? Am putting asterisks in case it won't.

Let's get one thing clear: I was not shocked. I was BORED! I never again want to see on the stage the manic crotch-grabbing, groin-thrusting, unimaginative "business" that passes for a directorial vision in so much theatre. For goodness' sake, Salome, who is supposed to be a fifteen year old virgin, sticks her fingers inside her knickers and gives them to the chained prophet, Jokanaan, to sniff! He meanwhile writhes in frustration.

There is a difference between erotic and pornographic, between suggestion and in-your-face (literally I'm afraid) explicitness.  The modern dress, which was combat fatigues for everyone except Herodias, meant you couldn't tell who was a Jew, who a Syrian. If there had been an interval, I would have left during it.

Roll on July when nothing can spoil the divine music of Richard Strauss's version. And if the dance of the seven veils is performed by a bottom-wiggling tart with a removable bikini under her fatigues, I can at least close my eyes and hear something subtle and nuanced by someone who, like Oscar Wilde, understood the difference between decadence as an art movement and the sleaze of a provincial lap-dancing club.


Joan Lennon said...

I am now going to go around saying "Salome on a doughnut" at every possible opportunity! Fabulous.
(I will also run a mile before going to see that production, so thanks for the warning.)
(In the context of, couldn't run a mile to save my soul.)

adele said...

Gosh whatever next? How awful....and I love A Beardsley still though I have to say I'm a bit allergic to's that severed head I can't cope with. I can listen to the Strauss and love it but wouldn't go and see any production.

Penny Dolan said...

Yes, "Salome on a doughnut" is definitely stuck in my mind too. Used to have a wonderful scarlet dressing-gown (robe?) with most of your post image across the back, but alas we both became slightly worn and faded. A fine and pointed review, as ever.

Stroppy Author said...

I'm sorry it was such a disappointment, Mary, but glad it was sold out or I would have gone to it that same night! Is the Strauss on in London? Tempting.

I don't think we are too old for decadence - I certainly hope not, I was looking forward to some. I'll just go and pour an absinthe and read Huysmans...

mad-and-sad said...

Just found this post after a discussion with a friend about the origin of my Grandma's expression "Salome on a Rock Cake". How hilarious! I never knew what it meant but the title of this piece gives some indication. If the author has any more info, I'd love to know!

Unknown said...

Wow. My wife's Clwrkenwell-Italian grandmother - born 1876 in Clerkenwell - used to say 'Don't just sit there like Salome on a rock cake".

Unknown said...