Edinburgh Fringe Scotsman review: Sans Salomé at theSpace on Niddry St (Venue 9), reviewed by David Pollock
“What’s an atheist doing writing about a Bible story?” enquires actor Charles Brookfield of the company during rehearsals for Oscar Wilde’s Salomé, while across the stage and in the next room to the performers’ read-through, Wilde himself watches his partner seduce another young male actor with buttoned-down insouciance.
On the one hand this new ensemble piece from the Fourth Monkey Theatre Company is a historical remembrance of the troubled production of Salomé and Wilde’s later fall from grace and into incarceration; on the other it’s a measured and subtle meditation on the force of expectation society continues to weigh gay people down with.
Fourth Monkey launched in 2010 with a well-received production of A Clockwork Orange and since then their hits have been of the repertory or adapted variety, including last year’s 4:48 Psychosis and The Elephant Man, and this year’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Sans Salomé (literally meaning “without peace”) is one of two debut experiments with new writing this year, and also the first work they’ve collaborated on with writer and director Toby Clarke. It’s frankly wonderful, a play entirely in control of its own message, aesthetic and rather complex staging with such a large ensemble
The number of players is a virtue, in fact, with some beautiful scenes conjured from the mass of bodies on stage. The image of a contemporary Tube journey still lives long after having seen it, the cast forming the carriage’s passengers and very essence, swaying and snapping back and forth with the tilt of the tracks.
Yet it’s strong on intimacy as well, for example the present-day lesbian couple Olivia and Maria’s witnessing of a folksy young female busker giving a haunting, somehow defining rendition of The Isle of Inisfree, or the unbroken but certainly cowed Wilde reduced to prison through the will of society and his enemies. “I’m not sure I have another comedy in me,” he mourns. “Laughter can be persecuted.”
Without preachiness or sledgehammer rhetoric, it neatly ties together Wilde’s struggle in documentary detail with the women’s uncertainty in overcoming their own conflict amid a supposedly more tolerant society, particularly in the case of the Irish Catholic partner who can’t escape her father’s judgment.
This is the work of a strong company and a potentially major new writing and directing talent, although any piece
with high-quality Wildean wit such as “the play is a success, the only question is whether the audience will be one” deserves to be viewed on its own merits.
Originally published in The Scotsman