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SALOME, OR THE CULT OF THE CLITORIS: A HISTORICAL PHALLUSY
from OSCAR WILDE & the verbatim report of the 1918 libel trial of Noel Pemberton-Billing, MP
THE LIR | Dublin, Ireland | 2020
SALOME, OR THE CULT OF THE CLITORIS: A HISTORICAL PHALLUSY is a verbatim theatre piece devised from the transcripts of the 1918 libel trial of Noel Pemberton Billing and the iconic text of Oscar Wilde’s Salome, around which the trial revolved. The year of the devastating Spanish Flu pandemic, internationally renowned dancer Maud Allan was starring in a controversial private performance of Oscar Wilde’s Salome, a play still banned for its radical depictions of female sexuality. In an elaborate publicity stunt before a reelection campaign, British MP, conspiracy theorist, and conservative firebrand Noel Pemberton Billing published a defamatory article titled “The Cult of the Clitoris,” in which he baselessly alleged that Maud Allan was conspiring with a ring of lesbian secret agents to undermine the British war-effort by seducing the wives of high-ranking British officers and feminizing the British public through art and culture. The stakes couldn’t be higher: just one year prior, a French exotic dancer playing Salome had been shot on similar charges. In this case, the accusation prompted an extended, high-profile libel trial that would tragically result in a shattered public image for Allan and landslide reelection for Billing. Wilde’s masterpiece is itself put on trial when the major players in the lawsuit take on the roles of the characters in the drama, moving from the litigious, tight-laced, homophobic world of the British court to the queer, camp, and luxuriant world of Wilde’s Judea.
An early example of the now-familiar media circus in which journalistic and judicial integrity are diverted by the allure of the spectacular, this obscure, 500-page transcript from 100 years ago mirrors today’s environment of counterfactual political theatrics and media sensationalism with astounding clarity: the more shocking the accusation, the more attention it draws, and the more powerful it becomes. Cutting through the hysterical and unhinged theatrics of the courtroom with the help of Wilde’s wild text, SALOME, OR THE CULT OF THE CLITORIS: A HISTORICAL PHALLUSY explores the experience of a queer female artist navigating her repressive social and historical circumstances.
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