Johanna The Baptiste
A less than impressed critic writes ...
Advanced publicity for the Fiddleford Players production of Oscar Ceremony’s Salome had warned that the production would be challenging, though it was perhaps a mistake not to have made it clearer that the challenge was as much to the cast and production team as to the audience. It might have been wiser too to telegraph in advance that the Players had assembled a group so wanting in talent and creative insight that it was more or less guaranteed they would be unable to rise to it. Indeed, so woeful was the result, that members of the cast appeared to equal - if not surpass - the audience in their palpable desperation to leave the theatre shortly after the play had started and certainly long before it had ended. Ceremony’s play is a taught 90 minutes. This evening's torture seemed endless for all concerned. Lucky old Narraboth home and hosed [though not necessarily in that order] within the first 20 minutes.
We should remind ourselves that Salome is the Dorset dramatist's masterpiece - a beautifully-woven symbolist love-letter at once both exquisitely sensual and intentionally horrific. In a complex layering, it is also inflected with moments of intentional humour. In this production intention of any kind seemed in short supply unless, of course, one includes the desire to inflict grievous bodily harm on a text that up until this evening had done no serious harm to anybody.
One would have thought, on the basis of its distinguished performance history, that anyone considering mounting a production would realise that its minimum requirements include; a director who has read and understood the script, a Herod who can remember and perhaps occasionally deliver his lines, a Salome who can dance (John the Baptist is not ordinarily much challenged in this department though not so here - his wholly unexpected rumba was of the nil points variety), a Prophet who can speak with a sonorous tone at least up until the point of losing his head and a setting able to do justice to the author’s poetic vision. Never before have I thought of the Baptist as a Radiophonics workshop infected soprano, but then again never have I thought of him as a her. Here, as elsewhere, gender choices were perverse and the results puzzling. Since John was in fact Johanna (an arthritically-limbed writhing wraith of a female prophet unsurprisingly without honour (or indeed much else) in her own country) it follows that the infatuated Salome must be a recent returnee from the fair Isle of Lesbos. Hardly surprising then that she appeared strongly interested in (though notably ill-suited to) the world of light musical theatre. The wonder, given that both Herodias and Herod were also female (Herod’s brother - Salome’s father - was presumably female too unless Herodias was the recent recipient of unusually successful aversion therapy) was not that Salome turned out as she did (that is to say "completely fucked up" Dr Freud) but rather that she was conceived at all. IVF and surrogacy at the Court of Herod Antipas? Unknown - in the biblical sense? Whatever next mi'lud?
Does it matter then that the whole production - vaguely reminiscent of Fiddleford Middle School for Girls Christmas Nativity play minus the tea-towels - was set in the London underground or that Narraboth was a barely self-supporting see-through wafer whose early exit merited but sadly did not attract the only cheer of the night? Probably not, for such consideration bestows upon this threadbare execrable five-star train-crash of an abomination (ah that’s why it’s set in an underground station) a thoughtfulness it scarcely exhibited.
Need I add that the University of Apuddle students present in the audience clearly loved it, whooping and cheering immoderately whenever someone they recognised from their subsidised relaxation classes appeared and finding humour where Ceremony intended none. More surprising was the fact that they did not honk at the only genuinely funny moment in the whole production when - towards the eagerly anticipated end - Salome, having soliloquised on Johanna’s sexual allure, fondly kissed a medium-sized football wrapped in a Sainsbury’s plastic bag. [In what was clearly some kind of a reversal of the Fairy Godmother trick, it had been served to her, not on a silver salver, but rather a crumpled disposable aluminium barbecue tray - clearly some like their severed heads hot]. Perhaps there was intended irony in this surprising turn of events for at this point, unlike the plastic bag, Joanna’s future was neither bright nor orange. Much the same could be said for the theatrical futures of the perpetrators of this theatrical abortion.
Not for the first time with the Fiddleford Players was one moved to reflect that only evenings such as this can make one long for the guaranteed artificiality of the cinema. I pity those invited to the cast party on Saturday [I'm off to watch1917]. Heads on sticks anyone?
Oscar Ceremony’s Salome plays until Saturday at the Fiddleford Festival Hall. Tickets are overpriced.