At the heart of Salomé was a table. Nice wooden table. Maybe 10 foot by 2. Two benches-two chairs faced inwards towards it. As the play went on, the table would be dined at, slithered across, danced upon, used as a tool for sexual provocation and angelic ascendance. It was not an unusual table, it was not thematically important – the only important thing that you should really know about it, is that over the course of the evening, most of the action that occurred within the play would take place here – and that was a problem. For all its artistic brilliance, Salome was brought low by poor staging.
Performed in runway, with the audience split on each side, Salomé invited us into a juxtaposing world of high art and kitsch. This art style was certainly one of the play’s key successes – visually the show was self assured and innovative, in a way that few St Andrews shows are. This was particularly evident in the costuming, with the appearance of a quasi-angelic Nazarene bathing the audience in light being a highlight. Similarly, the choreography was strong – not only in the more traditional dances, but through the general control of movement.
Unfortunately the play’s artistic excellence seemed to come at the detriment of the rest of the show. As a result of the runway stage, the audience were kept parallel to the show at all times, creating a very two-dimensional viewing plane. This in itself is not necessarily a problem, if compensated with intelligent staging – but the use of the central table kept the perspective locked into two dimensions. I ended up watching the backs of three actors (who in turn were blocking the actors opposite them) for most of the performance. Even when not at the table, actors would regularly be either faced away from half of the audience, or blocked by other actors on stage. Salomé’s (Jemima Tyssen Smith) seduction of Iokanaan (Miles Peckover) was almost entirely invisible due to the awkward placement of Tigellinus (Tobias Parker) and the slaves of Salomé, leaving one member of the row that I was on having to severely bend out of her seat to see. This was not aided by the levels of projection, which were regularly smothered by an overly zealous sound track. This is not to say that the play’s perfomances were weak – with Jemima Tyssen Smith and Miles Peckover bringing strong characterization and degrees of subtlety, along with the performance of the ever-talented Ben Glaister as Herod. While an argument can be made that in theatre, utilizing an inequality of experience can be a useful tool, here it was less of a matter of inequality of experience over a poverty of experience – that those sitting further down and closer to the front were getting a completely different show.
At the end of the day you have to judge a show based on what you’ve watched, and if you are unable to move around, your experience shouldn’t be punished by the show. Salomé declared that it would be “a religious experience”; in actual fact it was more like an organized religious experience – overlong, difficult to hear and see, and ever so slightly boring. I peered behind the veil – apparently it was just a brick wall back there.