I was enthralled to see the production billed as 'gender fluid', as Oscar Wilde's provocative, comedic and challenging play was the ideal springboard for questioning gender identity, and asking 'what is to be gay' (as is stated in the programme). Wilde's play is the ideal choice to mark the 50th anniversary of decriminalization of homosexuality. The male gaze is explored and subverted vibrantly in the text, and sexual identity is explicit. Having never visited The RSC before, I was surprised by this perceived foray into gender politics, as in my (perhaps naive) view, I saw the venue as fairly 'safe' in its programming.
However, what I was anticipating was not realised in performance. The whole production felt rather messy, without clear intention or purpose. Salomé, played by Matthew Tennyson, was so overtly feminine, I did not see any gender fluidity - the only masculinity being his form. He flits about like manic bird, with a bizarre wide-eyed innocence yet spouting sexual demands, intentions unclear. I assume Salomé was purposely childlike and desexualised to make Herod's unrequited desires even more lecherous and grotesque. However this seemed at odds with the productions claim to explore homosexuality. Herodias, the wife of the Tetrarch, who has such scope to create a torn mother, disgusted by her husband and fearful of the prophet's claims, instead was portrayed like a Disney villain. She is also void of sexuality, dressed as a pantomime dame but with a permanent sneer.
In regards to production values, although the set was magnificent, it was under utilised, and the costumes felt rather odd. Salome is dressed in a tiny silk white slip and bright pink heels, as if she has crept downstairs to join the party in her nightwear. The singer, whose unintelligible wailing songs I felt added nothing to the production, wore a 'We will Rock You' inspired outfit. The disarray of outfits made the whole production seem without clear concept. The lack focus was epotimised by the comparison of the two dances. The dance between the Syrian whom commits suicide onstage and Herodias' Page boy is a beautifully choreographed, poignant movement, which is entirely lost because you do not care for either character. On the other hand, the iconic dance of the seven veils which is built up for almost a third of the audience's time, became a gyrating, angular movement which fell rather flat. It became obvious that the natural arc of the story and focus points of the production were at loggerheads. The text itself also became tiring, with endless repetitions from Salomé. Her cruel decision arrives as one of a 'petulant child'1 rather than vengeful lust, which furthered my confusion in the director's intentions. Overall, a dissapointing production that had promised so much.