My first encounter with Salomé was its mention in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical adaptation of Sunset Boulevard, in which its central character, the irrational Norma Desmond, hands a newly hired writer a silent movie score of the Salomé story. Desmond’s score is several volumes long. Thankfully, this production from Ethrael Theatre is Salomé as written by Oscar Wilde, and even then a few extraneous bits from Wilde’s script have been taken out, and in my view rightly so.
Still, it’s a show that puts Salomé (Felicity Chilton) in full control in a male-dominated Roman Empire society, with a nonchalance that I struggle to find totally believable. It’s an interesting take on the character, nonetheless, but one that shows Salomé as rather stilted. Even the famous ‘dance of the seven veils’ is more of a slow sway than anything remotely erotic. In short, she’s too calm for a spoilt and demanding princess.
I suppose there’s something to be said in emphasising the psychological aspects of the trauma placed on Salomé by Herod (Hugh Train) over the sexual aspects. It’s Salomé who turns the tables in a slow burning scene, and by the end of it her mother Herodias (Amber Savva), is almost jumping for joy at the apparent reversal of fortune for them both.
I liken this Herod to Victor Meldrew from BBC Television’s One Foot in the Grave, not so much, if at all, in the mannerisms, but his entanglement in a tricky situation he can’t get out without wreaking havoc. And there are moments of hilarity in Herod’s reasoning too.
The very end of the play is rather more favourable to Salomé than Wilde’s script would suggest – at least, depending on your interpretation of this (more historically accurate) finale. But the shock factor prevalent in the first productions of this show is dampened, partly by the times in which we live, whereby graphic images are, rightly or wrongly, more commonplace than in previous generations; and partly because this production dispenses with particularly horrifying depictions of Iokanaan (Adam Bloom), in favour of a sufficiently grimy portrayal. His voice, mind you, wasn’t irritating or terrifying at all, so the audience is entirely reliant on the expressions and responses of other characters to gauge how welcome or unwelcome his proclamations are.
The text is very repetitive in places, but here, the audience is given an assured performance that more often than not allows Wilde’s witty and almost poetical lines to flourish. Uncompromisingly intense, there’s seldom a dull moment in this steadily paced tragedy. It seemed to speak to other members of the audience, too, some of whom saw an equally Machiavellian Salomé in either themselves or a close friend or relative.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Femme fatal, seductress or just a young girl in love? Infamous for its provocative and explicit depiction of the famous Biblical story, Oscar Wilde’s ‘Salomé’ is brought to the stage in this enthralling, powerful production.
Ethrael Theatre presents Wilde’s ‘Salomé’ in a unique adaptation. Salomé is promised whatever she desires when she dances for her step-father King Herod. When she asks for the prophet John the Baptist’s head on a platter, Herod faces a tortuous dilemma…
Ethrael Theatre is experimental and ambitious, consistently challenging the norms of fringe theatre and now seeking to do the same on a national scale. Following on from a sell-out run of The Furies (Edinburgh Fringe, 2015), an entirely student written musical adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame in Durham Cathedral, to an acclaimed performance of Martin Sherman’s Bent, Ethrael Theatre investigates different genres of theatre, creating interesting and powerful productions.
Sunday 10th to 14th January 2016