|Jacqui Dark as Herodias in Salome|
On stage Jacqui Dark, the wicked Herodias in Gale Edwards’ new production of Strauss’ Salome, now on at Arts Centre Melbourne, is a force of nature who keeps audiences enraptured as she totters about in sky-high heels and an even higher wig.
Off-stage she’s charmingly undiva-like, agreeing to do an interview at short notice, on a Friday night, at the tail-end of her dinner, with her five-month-old son Xander gurgling in the background.
One cannot help but wonder: how does a new mother so obviously in love with her baby and the idea of motherhood, play the role of a woman who makes Cruella de Vil look like a kindergarten teacher? Dark laughs at the notion “Oh isn’t she a monster?” she says, pleasantly.
“And yes, preparing the role was very tricky, as by the time Sydney rehearsals had started (in October this year), my son was three months old and I was full of the milk of human kindness, yet at work I had to be this dreadful mother who basically turns her daughter into a raving maniac.”
She could never have done it without huge input from Edwards. “Gale forced me to delve deep into Herodias’ character, which was exhausting. Frankly, I don’t know how anyone could be that hideous in real life – it would just be too tiring!”
Yet towards the end of the Sydney run of Salome, Dark was relishing the role. “That’s completely to Gale’s credit,” she says. “She pushed me and pushed me. I’d do what I thought was evil, and she’d say, ‘You’re not going far enough’. I’d say, ‘I don’t have more to give, I don’t know what else you want from me!’ And then I’d do more, and she’d say, ‘OK, so there was more, now I want more again’. Gale pushes you as far as you can go within the confines of having to sing and occasionally look at the conductor.”
|Jacqui Dark as Herodias with|
John Pickering as Herod
Crucial to creating the character was establishing the motivation behind Herodias’ actions. Dark says: “A big part of it is jealousy; Salome is just coming into her sexual prime. But there’s also a strong sense of guilt, as Herodias is allowing her daughter to be preyed upon by a paedophile. Of course, she was part of a Royal Court and if she walked out she’d probably have been killed, or been killed by Herod’s enemies. She needs Herod’s protection to survive. But she must wake at 4am some mornings and think, ‘Oh my God, what have I done?’ Her greatest hatred would be of herself.”
Dark has a natural upright posture and her instinct was to play the queen as regal and stately. It came as a shock to discover, on the first day of rehearsals, that Edwards had something completely different in mind. “She wanted my body to mirror Herodias’ soul, which meant that it had to become contorted, angular, pointy – something resembling a tarantula. It was really hard to get used to singing in that twisted frame.”
Herodias has considerable help from the wig and make-up departments. Dark laughs when recalling her journey with the wig, which could be described as a giant nun’s wimple, made of hair and ending in three points, one on top of Herodias’ head and one on each side of it. “At one stage during rehearsals I was going to lie back in my chair bored, rolling my eyes, but the wig was so heavy that it hurt my back to lean back.”
And all that top-heaviness has to be negotiated on a pair of perilously high heels. Dark says: “It’s difficult, but I just love the wig and the heels.”
Then there’s make-up, which initially took 45 minutes to apply, but by the beginning of the Melbourne run had shrunk to half an hour. “We tried out several looks before settling on the final one, which is gorgeously evil, with defined eyes and loads of glitter. Wearing that make-up really helps to channel the character.”
Finally, there’s the music, which Dark describes as “an incredible challenge”. “Strauss doesn’t give you a hint of pitch, and rhythmically the music is very hard too. Trying to concentrate on those two elements while acting this ogre and negotiating a huge, heavy wig on a pair of stiletto heels...you really have to have your brain switched on every second of the night.”
|Jacqui Dark and Kanen Breen in costume|
with baby Xander
Next year is big for Dark, with roles in Falstaff, Albert Herring and the Melbourne Ring cycle coming up, and parenthood keeping her very busy too. So perhaps it’s just as well she’s such a bundle of energy. She laughs when this is put to her. “Now I know why you’re meant to have a baby when you’re 20!”
Juggling caring for her son with performing and learning new roles is made possible by the solid support of friends. She describes her son as “a good-natured little thing whom everyone loves to mind”. Then bursts out laughing: “Or so they tell me!” Very often when he has stayed with friends he comes home in a new outfit. “I’m so lucky to have such amazing people in my life.”
Becoming a parent has taught her to use her time more efficiently. “You become really adept at using even the smallest units of time. I was having a little meltdown the other day, with thousands of words to learn for Falstaff, and Kane [tenor Kanen Breen] said, ‘Right, two days this week I’m going to take the baby out for a couple of hours’. So I had two blocks of two hours, and in that time I learned half the show. Thank goodness I’m a quick learner.”
And that she is, well, a force of nature. Who would want it any other way?
Salome is showing at Arts Centre Melbourne until Saturday 15 December 2012. Click here for more information and tickets.