On Sunday 21st September cinema-goers across the UK were treated to a very special theatrical treat; a triple bill centred around Oscar Wilde’s Salomé. The evening started with Al Pacino’s film adaptation of the play in which he starred, followed by a documentary of the making of the two and ending with a live Q & A with director and actor Pacino, leading actress Jessica Chastain and Stephen Fry – a Wilde fanatic – asking the questions.
Salomé is not a particularly famous play, nor is it one that is instantly recognisable as one of Wilde’s. Far from his satirical comedies that made him the toast of Britain, such as The Importance of Being Earnest, it is a tragedy told in one act that is dark, erotic and powerful. It is based on the biblical story of Salomé, the young stepdaughter of tetrarch Herod Antipas who requests for the head of Jokanaan, John the Baptist, after dancing for the tetrarch. It is like nothing else Wilde has ever written.
Beautifully shot and acted, the short play really blows you away. Chastain stole the show in what was incidentally her first film role (the play was shot back in 2006). In the lead role as Salomé she undertakes an incredible and difficult character arc, from the young innocent virgin to kissing the severed head of a corpse, but does it with such style and flair we barely notice how dramatic the change is. You cannot take your eyes off of her throughout, with her clever performance that embodies all aspects of her character: the exotic, the erotic and the innocent.
Chastain really embraces the difficulties of the role and even outshines the ever brilliant Al Pacino. All the performances are rather stunning and the dark aesthetics really fit in well with the play’s tone. It must have been difficult material to adapt due to the tricky subject nature, but the cast and crew have risen to the challenge, and as a result the audience do not mind the four hour indulgence into it.
Following the film was a documentary that explored the life of Wilde, the making of the play, and an exploration into what drove Pacino to make it in the first place. Although quite self-indulgent at times and over eccentric, the documentary gives an intriguing insight into the world of theatre and film. It is unafraid to show what really happens and makes what can be perceived as quite negative comments on the business.
Pacino is shown to be the eccentric leader of the project: a passionate actor determined to make his film no matter what cost. The short Q & A that followed really helped develop further what we had seen on screen, with Pacino and Chastain in particular making intelligent and well developed answers that lead us to think even more deeply about what we have just witnessed. The four hours flew by and it is unlikely we will ever see anything as special as this in cinemas again.
If you missed out on this terrific event though, do not worry. Pacino has revealed that he plans to put on the play again in 2016 in London…