The TheatreguideLondon Review
Unless you are a
total purist denying theatre artists any freedom to interpret a text,
you will have to be captured and thrilled by Headlong Theatre's
exciting new take on Oscar Wilde's Salome.
Wilde's version of
the story of the dance for the head of John the Baptist is an
archetypal piece of late Victorian decadence, mixing sex, violence and
lush poetry in a heady brew, so that you almost smell the incense
rising from the page as you read it. Director Jamie Lloyd and the
company take the audacious step of seeming to fight the text in this
staging, actually creating a dynamic that brings out all its power.
Lloyd turns King
Herod's court into a platoon of modern soldiers, part of an occupying
army going slightly mad from the combination of boredom, danger and
uncertainty about their mission.
Herod himself is
played by Con O'Neill as a career NCO - a crude man, barely human
except for a startling streak of poetry within him. He was probably an
East End hardman in civilian life, and carries a hint of real insanity
that makes everyone give him a wide berth - think of Ronnie Kray
or the Joe Pesci character in Goodfellas.
Salome is the sort of sex kitten who should never be allowed anywhere
near a group of homesick men, as she uses her sexuality for her own
entertainment, with full awareness of her power but no sense whatever
Put together and
given Wilde's over-the-top poetry to drive them both toward madness,
these two characters rise toward a tragic stature that is only enhanced
by the mundane modern surroundings.
particularly engrossing and attractive about this interpretation is
that both of the central characters go on psychological and emotional
journeys that we can map. Ashton begins Salome as just this side of an
airheaded bimbo whose response to Iokanaan's rejection is childish
pique. But once the thought of vengeance enters the girl's little
brain, it carries her across a line into insanity, a journey all the
more dramatic because we don't quite see it happening until she's
O'Neill is so
strong as Herod that he almost turns the play on its head, bringing his
character to the centre and making it all about this simple man,
accustomed to ruling his simple world, who suddenly finds himself way
out of his depth.
works. Over-amplifying Seun Shote's offstage preaching turns Iokanaan
into a special effect rather than the third partner in what should be a
dramatic triangle. And when Salome gets to her dance, the pink wig and
boom box are probably a bad idea - though turning the dance itself into
a drunken, stumbling attempt at a strip tease is exactly right,
bringing the two worlds of the play, modern and ancient, together in an
evocative metaphor of decadence.
I'm assuming that anyone who goes to a production of Salome is not expecting easy light entertainment. If you're willing to go just a small step further and open yourself to Headlong's audacious theatrical vision, this will be a production that holds you at the moment and lingers with you long after.
Return to TheatreguideLondon home page.
Review - Salome - Hampstead Theatre 2010