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Review: SALOMÉ

A valiant attempt at a reimagining

Salomé is a story of lust, obsession and dark desire. Based on the story of the execution of John the Baptist, and dripping with Oscar Wilde’s signature linguistic resplendence, the premise of Salomé is incredibly seductive.

In some ways this production does certainly deliver on that promise, but in some ways it does not. The script is, of course, superb, and delivered with a real sense of pace and understanding by much of the cast. The two leads, in particular, Herod (Celine Clark) and Salomé herself (Marianne Porter) danced their way through lengthy monologues captivatingly and with ease. But there is a big difference between “listenability” and depth. Every so often, I felt that we were drifting too much into the territory of a poetry reading, albeit a very good one. The cast dealt well with the words themselves but failed to inject any real sense of the intense emotions within the play.

Salomé is about the destructive powers of misplaced lust and desire: it’s tragic, it’s shocking, it’s dramatic to say the least. Yet I had no sense of any of the intense attraction, the vain desperation, none of the powerful emotions that motivate the tragic events of the play. I expected to leave feeling like I had been indoctrinated into some mythic cult, feeling seduced, ashamed, initiated, guilty even, but instead I just felt uninvested.

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"I will not look at things, I will not suffer things to look at me." Photo: Gabriel Humphreys

This not to say that the piece does not have redeeming features – indeed it is a rather beautiful expression of the story of Salomé in many ways. The sound and lighting design by Caspar Bigham and Daniel Dickins respectively have the perfect amount of opulent depth and sharp-edged threat. From the strobed rave to the “beating of angel wings”, everything has clearly been meticulously planned and considered.

The prophet, in particular, was superbly expressed. Portrayed in hoarse-voiced emo splendour by Roma Ellis, their writhing shadow is cast onto the back wall and accompanied by an alarmingly distorted voiceover. I truly believed in the threat and fear that such a prophet induces in those who hear their predictions.

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"Wherefore dost thou not look at me?" Photo: Gabriel Humphreys

It is a shame, then, that such moments are so fleeting. There is clearly space for deeper exploration of some themes and this piece does start to get there. The set is aggressively modern, as are the bold colours that the cast wear on both body and face. At first, I was excited by this new setting, the opening feels like a dedication to the otherworldly experience of a rave and I was tempted by the possibility of an exploration of excess and obsession in an up-to-date context.

As the play continued, however, the futuristic elements coupled with contemporary EDM tracks felt somewhat disjointed. Wilde’s work encourages fluidity of both gender and sexuality, ideally explored in so modern a setting. However, while some of these ideas do pop their heads up, on the whole, none of them are clearly expressed enough to constitute a new or fresh interpretation of the piece. It is not enough anymore to gender-bend the main characters, this in itself does not qualify the piece as an exploration of gender identity or sexual liberation – it needed to go further.

Salomé leaves me with an over-arching sense that the creative team are not quite sure what it is that they themselves are getting at, what they are trying to say. A little bit more faith in their vision and as much attention paid to emotional depth as has been paid to the visual and performance elements and Salomé could be a wonderful piece of theatre.


Cover Design: Russell Fancourt