"Fourth Monkey return to the Fringe following their sell-out five-star success with Sarah Kane's 4.48 Psychosis in 2012. 1895, Oscar Wilde incarcerated. 2013, a woman trapped emotionally. Each due to a ‘love that dare not speak its name’. Echoing from the first rehearsal of Wilde’s Salomé, come two tales of persecution and living sans salomé (without peace)."
NB. This production is alternatively cast on subsequent days. This reviewer saw cast ‘B’.
The script is a splicing. At once there is the story of the composition and production of Salomé - Oscar Wilde’s most daring stage play, produced during the playwright’s apotheosis and martyrdom. There is also a contemporary tale of two young lovers struggling to locate each other in a fog of sexual and familial uncertainty.
We enter to discover a white space. White surfaces, white properties, white sheets with Wildean quotations written out upon them. There are also performers clad in white - lots of them (I think i counted 17). They never leave the performance space. Off stage is onstage. They huddle, faces turned from the audience when not engaged. Still, like a series of coiled springs. Looking back it’s important to point out the white because this play has stayed in my mind as a colour-filled production. From out of the anonymity, from out of the crowd emerged a gracious, beautifully trim ensemble piece in which each player has their moment to shine.
Briskly choreographed costume changes animate particular characters. Wilde has a particular jacket which is the base upon which Euan Forsyth ably constructs his portrait of the artist as a blend of diffidence, bravado, recklessness and caution. The contrasts with Daniel Marot-Cox as the earthier theatre manager are electric - do they love or hate one another? - the clownfish and his sea anemone. Scenes of Salomé in rehearsal provide Sara Barison (as Bernhardt playing the title role) and Jordan Capelli (as Brookfield playing Jokanaan) with an ample target. They proceed to pepper it with darts of such daring character work, and which hit the mark with such surety, that I am fidgeting to see them tackling the script entire. Alex Sherwood is a candid and credible Bosie but if the real life bromance was as asexual as that depicted with Forsyth it’s a wonder Wilde ever went down.
Youth theatre can go in one of two ways. There are performances in which the direction has obviously favoured particular actors, polishing them to such an extent that their sheen outshines the others. Such unbalanced productions tend to flounder in the dramatic cross-currents. Fourth Monkey took the high road and delivered a series of performances like a string of Bahraini pearls. Each beautifully developed individually but also adding lustre to a whole greater than the sum of its parts. The sense of true luxury was heightened by Vicky Holburt’s voice which should be bottled and sold for golden sovereigns.
The two heroines of the piece were Rakhee Sharma and Sarah Heracleous as the contemporary lovers. Their chemistry is tempestuous, affectionate and affecting. Their individual inflections and touches are brilliantly judged. At no point are they subsumed by the corresponding conflicts of a century before. Sharma’s lengthy poetry recital in the final moments of the play drags but not for want of effort on her part.
It is one of only three minor notes I would offer. The others being to pacify the moment when Wilde violently thrusts a cabbage into the belly of a pregnant woman (no spoilers) which is not in keeping with his reputation as a gentle giant. Also, costume needs to be called up for erroneously placing the buttons for a fine (white) pair of Albert Thurston goatskin suspender braces on the outside of Forsyth's trousers - I was wearing a pair myself at the time and it jarred.
The two plots inhabit the shared space comfortably though a wealth of visual vernacular shorthands with which the audience is guided to immediate comprehension. The ensemble switch from the London tube of today to the street cafe’s of Belle Époque Paris so effectively that, as I say, I must forcibly denude my memories of the projections it has beamed onto all those white surfaces. A delightful and consistent piece of collaborative live theatre by a company of hard working young actors which does credit to all concerned.
Reviewed by Dan Lentell 19 August 2013