Theatre review: Salome

Posted on: 29 June 2010 by Mark O'haire

A banned one-act play by Oscar Wilde - Salome – has been revived in a wild and weird new production by the Headlong Theatre Company directed by Jamie Lloyd at the Hampstead Theatre.

We are transported from the biblical fable to a modern day apocalyptic world where a group of soldiers guard the subterranean dungeon in which Iokanaan (John the Baptist) is held prisoner by King Herod’s slinky stepdaughter Salome. Salome taunts the prophet and then agrees to perform the mysterious dance of the seven veils but demands in return the head of Iokanaan, Herod’s most infamous prisoner.

The milieu of decadence and debauchery is well conveyed in Jamie Lloyd’s production. But in bringing it bang up to date with a mixture of militarism and gangster rap with ghetto blaster, it seems curiously lopsided. Further it goes in for unnecessary excess and over-emphasis with Salome drinking the dripping ‘blood’ from John the Baptist’s severed head and then kissing it, while Herod is depicted as an uncontrolled sexual psychotic who masturbates furiously while Salome performs her famous dance in a see-through mini-dress.

The production also misses Wilde’s distinctive moral force and only occasionally do we get a glimpse of the eloquence, as exemplified by “the stars are falling like un-ripened figs” that so distinguished Wilde’s writing.

Con O’Neill’s mercurial bisexual ruler, King Herod, strives to make an impact but the fact that he inhabits a world of casual violence makes it difficult to believe his revulsion at the implications of his stepdaughter’s request. Zawe Ashton makes a suitably provocative Salome, puffing a cigarette and dressed in a boiler suit. Jaye Griffiths manages to exude sexual allure as her mother, Herodias and Seun Shote makes a roaring John the Baptist, resisting Salome’s advances. This production maintains the interest for 90 minutes but it is not hard to see why it is so rarely performed.

By Laurence Green

Where: Hampstead Theatre

When: Plays until 17 July

Box Office: 020 7722 9301

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