Director Stephen Nicolazzo (Psycho Beach Party, sex.violence.blood.gore) has a long history with Oscar Wilde’s classic and controversial 1891 play Salome. Having first read it during a pre-drama school visit to Paris, he mounted a production during his years at NIDA – and this week debuts a revamped, recontextualised version at Malthouse Theatre.
If you’ve seen any of Nicolazzo’s other works, you’ll be aware of his reputation for sexy, salacious theatre. One might assume that the fact Salome was banned for a good 50 years after it was first written was enough to pique his interest.
“That was one of the things that drew me to it, certainly – but when I first read the play I was going through an emotional patch. When I read this poetic ode to fucked-up love, I really related to it – and especially the character of Salome,” Nicolazzo told the Star Observer.
Salome is the stepdaughter of Herod Antipas who, to her stepfather’s dismay but the delight of her mother, requests the head of John the Baptist as a reward for dancing the dance of the seven veils.
Headless men? Fierce dance workouts? Girl power? Salome sounds like a gay icon if ever there was one – indeed, in researching the play, Nicolazzo found it had a colourful queer history.
“As I’ve done research, the fact that she’s a queer heroine has come up time and time again. In the 1920s in America, gay soldiers would call each other Salome – that was the code word for being the fairy. There was also a movement in the beginnings of the Harlem drag scene, where African-American transvestites would perform the play. Instead of lip-synching to a pop track, they were performing Oscar Wilde and doing the dance of the seven veils.
“It’s certainly had a robust queer history!”
It’s a history reflected in Nicolazzo’s production, which will take its cues from the drag balls of Paris is Burning and the gender-bending of the New Romantic era. Joining the director for Salome are a cast and crew of familiar faces from his previous shows, most recently his hilarious take on the camp classic Psycho Beach Party.
“For me, having an ensemble of actors I work with frequently has made the creative journey much more exciting. It’s great knowing that the people you’re working with are willing to go as far as you want – especially with my work,” he said.
Salome should further Nicolazzo’s reputation for making bold, sex-positive theatre – as he sees it, there’s nothing wrong with stirring the loins of your audience.
“I think it’s a common fear in theatre to present sexuality in an unapologetic way. It’s always easy to be judgmental about sex and erotica, but my shows are all about celebrating our desires, and presenting alternative sexual practices in a really hot and desirable way,” he said.
“My work is all about the joy of sex and not being afraid of it – I like to say, the main objective is to get the audience hot, wet and hard!”
INFO: Salome, Malthouse Theatre, August 30 – September 14. www.malthousetheatre.com.au