HELIUM: Dance for me, Salome

“Dance for me, Salome!” Never has Oscar Wilde been so gay – and he was in prison for sodomy and gross indecency when his play Salome was first performed in 1896. 

Salome. Photo by Sarah Walker
Salome. Photo by Sarah Walker

Little Ones Thearte’s HELUIM-season production of Wilde’s Salome is so gloriously indecent that if it were performed in the 1890s, cast, producers, audience and passers by would be in the cells with Oscar.

According to the Bible, Herod wanted to see his step daughter, Salome, dance and promised her anything in exchange. She asked for the head of John the Bapsist. Wilde wrote his version of this story in French in 1891 and it was published in 1893. There were plans for a 1892 London season, but it was illegal to portray Bible characters, so its first performance was in Paris.

Wilde wrote Salome as a tragedy, but director Stephen Nicolazzo starts with its sexuality and moral ambiguity. It is, after all, a story about a virgin who wants the lust of a saint, and a king who wants his stepdaughter’s virginity.

Surrounded by an Oz-emerald-green curtain, Salome rejoices in a mid-1980s aesthetic (gorgeous costumes by Tessa Leigh Wolffenbuttel Pitt and Eugyeene Teh; set by Teh), where the new romantics questioned gender on MTV, Madonna made pearls and lace cool, and David Lynch freaked out late-night film-goers; pass the oxygen, please.

With traditions and expectations abandoned, Salome is a man in a handmade matador costume, John the Baptist is a woman in a disco-ball bikini, Herod and Herodias drag up, and the soldiers and heralds are magnificently fabulous. It’s a world where gender is everything but means nothing, and sexuality is everything until love and jealousy take hold.

Stephen Nicolazzo has found a remarkable and unique voice as a director. Following Psycho Beach Party (that’s heading to the Brisbane Festival) and sex.violence. blood. gore, his high-camp, bold aesthetic defines his view of queer culture without rejection or criticism. His world is filthy without shame and welcomes everyone who celebrates difference and lets their heart make their choices.

And he has a a group of actors who have quickly established themselves among independent theatre’s A-list. Paul Blenheim, Genevieve Giuffre, Alexandra Aldrich, Nick Pelomis, Peter Paltos, Zoe Boesen, Tom Dent are so sexy and so funny that it’s impossible to decide which one you fancy the most.

Salome is glorious and hilarious and so damn smart that missing it isn’t an option.

Anne-Marie Peard

Anne-Marie spent many years working with amazing artists at arts festivals all over Australia. She's been a freelance arts writer for the last 10 years and teaches journalism at Monash University.

Anne-Marie Peard

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