Exploring the pornography of power or exploiting the power of pornography? When it comes to Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1975 movie, Salò, or 120 Days of Sodom, the jury is very hotly divided. A situation Dylan Tighe’s brave reimagining “Pasolini’s Salò Redubbed” isn’t likely to resolve. Originally set in Fascist occupied Italy in 1944, “Pasolini’s Salò Redubbed” transposes the movie’s original setting to Ireland since the beginning of the State, highlighting the State’s history of institutionalised abuse towards the most vulnerable in its care. A situation, Tighe remarks, that can only happen with the collusion of the masses. As many continue to do even now, conforming to the demands of a consumerist Irish society in which we are all complicit in its perpetuated sadisms, and not just a few bad eggs.
As if running out of patience with endless explanations and wilful ignorance while the world goes insane, “Pasolini’s Salò Redubbed” sets about slapping you wide awake. Yet while some shows are content to deliver a punch to the gut, under Tighe’s direction, “Pasolini’s Salò Redubbed” delivers a full body slam that might well leave you winded. Adapted and directed by Tighe, “Pasolini’s Salò Redubbed” finds Thomas Collins Peter Gaynor, Lauren Larkin, Niamh McCann, Gina Moxley, Will O’Connell and Daniel Reardon live onstage, re-dubbing into English Pasolini’s Salò as it’s being projected onto the wall behind them, courtesy of Jose Miguel Jiménez’s video design. Tighe and Aedín Cosgrove’s set, resembling a sound studio with couches where actors can lounge between scenes, reinforces the dubbing deceit. Attention to detail is exemplary, from fake radio broadcasts to a superbly sarcastic soundtrack, right down to the marriage of image and text. In which women and children are debased and abused at a country estate by men in power. Servants of Church and State whose crimes are often legalised and driven by capitalism.
Following a lengthy, contextualising introduction by Tighe, delivered in Italian with subtitles, it soon becomes clear why controversy still surrounds Salò, which deals in some deeply disturbing ideas and imagery. Many of which are inspired by the Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom, which serves as the films alternate title. Images which see historical abuses becoming emotionally charged with a new and uncomfortable resonance courtesy of Tighe’s unapologetic script. The experiences of the Magdalene women and others, and of the helpless children, raped, degraded, and demeaned in our schools and institutions, are lent a visceral immediacy that lifts their experiences from the report page and into our present. As images descend into Caligula levels of depravity, the startling juxtaposition of Pasolini’s imagistic poeticism and the shameful events in Irish history are wedded into something potent. Over-stretching into European and global commentary, referencing the refugees crisis and deaths across Europe, much of “Pasolini’s Salò Redubbed’s” power begins to dissipate. Yet a clever ending as the most horrific images are blurred doesn’t so much offer release as steer us towards another recognisable horror. Travelling full circle back to Salò's 1940s and the extermination of others also deemed to be of lesser worth.
Described as a thought experiment, “Pasolini’s Salò Redubbed” is surprisingly unsettling, even in our highly desensitised age. And it still feels incredibly long. Yet if Pasolini’s images are still disconcerting over 40 years later, they help highlight both abuse and abusers, and the crimes committed, condoned, and covered up. Even so, “Pasolini’s Salò Redubbed” falls into a most unsatisfying trap that might be impossible for it to escape from. At one point Tighe comments on how capitalist consumerism has made resistance ineffective by repackaging and commodifying it. A sense of which hangs, without irony, over “Pasolini’s Salò Redubbed,” wherein resistance, like Salò, is repackaged as a commodifiable theatre experience. A case of victim becoming perpetrator, making voyeurs of us all? It’s a risk “Pasolini’s Salò Redubbed” is prepared to take.
To say “Pasolini’s Salò Redubbed” serves as a metaphor would be to do it a disservice. Poetic, yes, but it’s also steeped in a documentary style, factual solidness. In a world where Judaeo-Christian notions of a chosen people covenanted to God who tower over all others are still believed by many, the future is one wherein freedom isn’t free. Yet it’s not just Judaeo-Christians, or even those of other religious persuasions, who share this sense of chosen superiority, but many of no religious conviction at all. I want to be free, one character says at the end. So did de Sade. Only he had very different notions of freedom. We need new ones. Non capitalist ones. And new institutions. Sentiments “Pasolini’s Salò Redubbed” tries drive home with brutal force, in an effort to ensure we no longer choose to be ignorant. Though many might find themselves unable to see beyond "Pasolini’s Salò Redubbed's” excess of horror and brutality to where it really wants you to look.
“Pasolini’s Salò Redubbed” directed and adapted by Dylan Tighe, presented by Dylan Tighe and The Abbey Theatre, runs as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2019 at The Peacock Stage of The Abbey Theatre until October 5.
For more information, visit Dublin Theatre Festival 2019 or The Abbey Theatre.