Discover more from Tripe + Drisheen
Theatre review: Salomé by the Cliff
‘Salomé by the Cliff’ is full of many things; singing, dancing, flirting, but more than anything it is full of questions writes Pádraig O’Connor.
Depending on which Gospel or translation of the Bible you wish to consult, there are varying accounts of the ancient Christian myth of Salomé, but the general gist is that a young woman, at the behest of King Herod, danced for him at his birthday party and in doing so, pleased him so much that he granted her anything she wished for, up to half of his Kingdom. After consulting with her mother, it was decided she wanted John the Baptist’s head on a platter, to which the King duly obliged and since then Salomé, fairly or unfairly, has come to represent the archetypal femme fatale.
This tale of desire and doom has spawned innumerable works of art, music and literature, the latest being ‘Salomé by the Cliff’, a poetic punk offering currently showing at the Cork Arts Theatre as part of their Catalyst programme, which aims to to provide a platform for the work of early career theatre artists working in Cork city.
In this subversive new version, performed by Sophia Santabarbara and Isadora Söderstöm, each playing the part of an unnamed actress, who join forces and ask the mythical Salomé if instead she would dance with them, as they follow her to a cliff’s edge so as they can sacrifice their own creation.
This production is very much in keeping with the spirit of the punk ethos; anarchy reigns supreme as at the outset the audience are told there is no director, indeed no real play, but are nonetheless invited to join the two characters on a heavily somatic dream-like journey, which is also rich in imagery with its depictions of the female body “like a wall filled with scorpions” and the landscape they are metaphorically peering into, an “immense abyss”.
The play opens with the two actresses standing in semi-darkness against a large video projection, featuring footage of both roaming around some dramatic looking cliffs. This is very apt as shadows and the integration of one’s own shadow, plays an integral part in the play, as the actresses look at the imaginary Salomé and are unsure whether to admire her beauty and ability to hold power over men, or loathe her for something they possibly see in themselves. This is classic Jungian shadow work, very relevant in the advertising age of female object/male gaze, which tends to surreptitiously pit women against one another.
The two actresses wish to delve further into this however and question the very function of the female form in society. Are women’s bodies merely pleasure houses for men, maintained and put through rigorous procedures so they can therefore garner favor from them, or can they be beautiful in and of themselves, in a role of non-exchange?
At one point, the two actresses are admiring the moon and pouring over its symbolism, in the next instance they are suggesting life would be much easier if they didn’t seek symbols everywhere and accepted reality as it is. But what is a life without symbols and indeed myth? Are they, in this twisted retelling, trying to suggest that it is a great error in modern life that not only do we misread, but also ignore the wealth of ancient wisdom in myth, as we plunge head first into a literal society of facts and statistics, which can never tell us anything meaningful about the important things in life, such as love, beauty and truth?
It’s hard to say, but watching the two actresses perform, it is plain to see they revel in distorting the audience's perception of what is about to unfold and there are numerous points throughout where what appears to be on the verge of happening never quite does. Whether the impact of this is any more than a shock tactic or carries a deeper meaning, depends very much on your own view of anarchy. Is it a load of mohawked punks sitting on a wall in Camden smoking joints or an organic way society could organize itself, with the potential to lead to healthy and spontaneous relations between communities and citizens alike?
‘Salomé by the Cliff’ is full of many things; singing, dancing, flirting, but more than anything it is full of questions, which to be fair, fall short in a few places. The fragmented narrative, although clearly within the grasp of the actresses and fellow creator Paolo Gruni, could’ve done with a little more clarity for an audience, who if unaware of Salomé’s backstory, would certainly struggle to keep pace.
There are also, like the footage of the cliffs, very barren segments within the play, where the energy drops and a little more tension would’ve been welcome. Lastly, the dance sequences, while full of gusto, certainly require more than a little generosity of spirit from an audience, especially those not particularly enamored by heavy thumping music, which drowned out the cries of the characters in certain sections.
But this is very much a play unlike anything you are likely to see on a stage in Cork again this year. It is European and slightly avant garde and there is something of the energy of Věra Chytilová’s 1966 film ‘Daisies’ in the performances and their inversion of the common stereotypes of how a woman ought to behave. There is no box ticking or nods to political correctness here. It didn’t always work, but they had the courage to express themselves in a wholly honest manner that seemed true to their own nature.
Perhaps then, this won’t be the last play they sacrifice.
‘Salomé by the Cliff’ runs until September 30 at the Cork Arts Theatre on Carroll’s Quay. 8pm start time. Tickets and more information here.
Pádraig O’ Connor is a writer based in Cork City.