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Salomé at The Greenwich Theatre | Review

Jamie O'Neill as Herod, Annemarie Anang as Herodias. Shot by Adam Trigg.
Jamie O’Neill as Herod, Annemarie Anang as Herodias. Shot by Adam Trigg.

It was written by Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) to be performed as a one-act play, so it’s a curious choice for Lazarus Theatre Company to stretch it out to two acts. Perhaps it’s a damning indictment on the attention span of modern audiences. But there are ways of keeping the running time down – I’ve seen hour-long versions of the story, and as the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Sunset Boulevard demonstrates, it’s possible to get the salient points of Salomé across in a single musical number.

There’s a fair amount of repetition in this version, and the number of times the word ‘like’ was said felt far more than the eighty-three occurrences that appear in the Wikisource text of the play. Following ever-increasingly absurd comparisons with the moon with anything from strange looks to mad and drunken women, Herodias (Annemarie Anang) has it right when she declares that “the moon is like the moon!” In this production, Salomé (Bailey Pilbeam) is a prince rather than a princess, and the promotional poster for the show doesn’t lie – it’s not so much the dance of the seven veils as the removal of seven items of clothing, albeit to a piece of music from the Richard Strauss opera version of the story. Herod’s (Jamie O’Neill) response to the stripping off (for that is what it is), is, um, a tad unorthodox.

Some minor alterations to the text make the play a little punchier, or at least somewhat more contemporary, but are sometimes at odds with the rather flowery vocabulary that Oscar Wilde deploys throughout his play. Herod’s frustration is palpable, but it’s more nuanced and more vivid when he elaborately attempts to dissuade Salomé from insisting on a particular request to be fulfilled, than when he throws the toys out of the proverbial pram by blurting out: “For f–k’s sake!

Given the resetting of the show to 2019 – O’Neill’s Herod is not unlike a certain political leader who makes grandiose claims and decries ‘fake news’ – it’s a little surprising that the ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ of the Wilde text are largely retained. But the use of mobile telephony or other varieties of digital technology could have been harnessed, for instance when demands are made by King Herod or Prince Salomé.

This is the first production of I’ve come across of Salomé where, technically, the demand for the head of Jokanaan (Jamal Renaldo) on a silver platter or silver tray isn’t (strictly speaking) adhered to. There were at least a couple of characters who really weren’t given much to do, and I wonder if it would have made much difference if the cast were reduced by one or two. The set is kept relatively simple, and bizarrely there were a large number of balloons – too many to ignore. I couldn’t work out what the significance of the balloons was, suffice to say there was no re-enactment of the motion picture Up.

Proceedings verge on melodrama on multiple occasions, and the interval seems to come at an odd time in the plot, if only because the characters resume their positions for the start of the second act to re-enact exactly just what went on. Does the audience really require a reminder after twenty minutes? It does well, though, to present a different set of dynamics to this oft-performed play by exploring the results of changing the gender of the title character. But the relative brevity of the second act essentially made the interval superfluous, and the seemingly Brechtian approach meant that engagement with the story and its characters was more difficult than it needed to be.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Oscar Wilde’s scintillating Salomé hits the stage in this all new LGBTQ focussed production.
Salomé, Salomé, dance for me. I pray thee dance for me…
King Herod asks Salomé to dance for him… this request leads to The Dance of the Seven Veils and one of the most shocking, thrilling and scandalous climaxes ever seen on stage.

Originally banned in Britain, Wilde’s outrageously provocative Salomé comes to the stage in this exotic and exquisite new production and features as the finale to our second year-long residency at The Greenwich Theatre.

Salomé is suitable for ages 16 plus and contains full male nudity and scenes of a sexual and violent nature.
Making his Lazarus Debut Bailey Pilbeam takes on the title role of Salomé. Returning to the company; Jamie O’Neill (Edward II, Revenger’s Tragedy) plays the role of King Herod and David Clayton (Edward II, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Tempest) plays the role of Guard to Herodias. Also making their Lazarus Debuts; Annemarie Anang plays the role of Herodias. Jamal Renaldo plays the role of Jokannaan, Michael Howlett plays the role of The Young Soldier. Hattie Wilkinson plays the role of The Official. Jordan Paris plays the role of First Solider and Cal Chapman plays Second Soldier.

Salomé
at The Greenwich Theatre.
By Oscar Wilde
Tuesday 15th – 25th May, 2019
https://www.greenwichtheatre.org.uk/

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3 thoughts on “Salomé at The Greenwich Theatre | Review”

  1. Agree generally with this review. Good: Saw it last night, would recommend for a night out – price is right. A for effort, and concept. Some strong moments. But at times it felt like the actors were dragging a cart of flea market antiques up a hill. And to have all the overstated warning signs all over the theatre – WHY? We’re adults. This seemed like an excellent university fringe production.

    *spoiler alert* Now, for the ‘full male nudity’ – if you’re going to say it, DELIVER. This is problematic on two frontals: One, it’s being marketed to be a tease and while the actor is beautiful and brave, and the actual scene quite appealing, — c’mon: White Gym-Bunny Boxers? Then, an ill-fitting red robe donated by someone’s Gran?

    Second, is the actual, ya’ know – theme of the play. The entire fulcrum is the fact that the audience is lured by the beauty of Salomé, and when they get it, it’s a mirror – a sad reckoning of watching something so alluring turn ugly from the inside, and you have to walk home wrestling with it. This happens, IF YOU DELIVER.

    The problem with the “Gender Fluid” quota crowd is, that they do concept kitsch very well, and it sounds great on social media. However the depth just gets lost. You might take some notes from 60s counter culturists and sexual liberators…you aren’t the first to Free Willy on stage, despite the historical amnesia of today’s young audiences. 



    Do something with lighting, come up with a see-through G-string – anything – but to present a shameless character who’s called for the severed head of a Holy Man and PROPHET, who’s been omnisciently the voice of God, Almighty throughout the first half, and then direct said character to shamefully cover himself – please, spare us the pollyanna highbrow conceptual excuses – either do it or just don’t. 



    This is probably the first gender-switch-thing I’ve seen that actually is arguably workable, and a great idea & new twist, inside a work of a genius. It actually poves the prowess of Wilde and the point of fluidity in total. (He himself played Salome so technically this is not the first). So, with all the other bad gender farces we’ve suffered so far, for all that’s good and thespian, go there, we can handle it. These actors seemed ready to take the ride – if not, get some who will.



    Quibble: the music choices – sigh. The laugh wasn’t worth throwing the mood.

    Again, the night was worth £15, there’s some really really great moments, the Herod character comes alive, and the intellect of Wilde provides a piece so timeless and intelligent that it challenges anything in the West End or on TV for certain. 

It will be nice to see if directors like this mature into an ability of fulfilling the noise of these not-so-new, new concepts.

    1. The bloody balloons!! I sat in the dearest seats in the centre 3 rows back, and for that pleasure the effing balloons obscured the whole of Herodias’ face during the ‘dance. Not only that, but would you credit it… Herod himself stood at the centre front of most of the ‘dance’, TOTALLY obscuring Salome!!!

      Where the director Sat when directing this play is a TOTAL MYSTERY to me??
      Catastrophic decisions!

      Lose the balloons guys!

  2. I thought this production was absolutely awful. It had trigger warnings in the foyer about nudity and gun shots (there was only gun shot pre the interval — I left then so don’t know what happened after). The riff on Salome as a gorgeous young man was fine plus all the LGBT extra references. A very interesting take on the original. What was awful was the really basic things like constant ranting from the cast, just shout after shout. The acoustics were awful. I do not need to be deafened in the theatre. Pounding music at the beginning and at various other points, and horribly over amplified Jokanaan whenever he spoke and ridiculous, frozen poses from the cast as he spoke. Oh dear. This is not a professional-standard production by any stretch of the imagination. The worst bit was the incessant smoking by all of the characters standing at the front of the stage for the first ten minutes of the production. Does the director not know that smoking to represent sultriness and decadence is so totally passé, and also unpleasant for the audience and bad for the actors. I’m writing frankly because I think someone needs to say these things, not just pretend it was OK as some of the reviews imply (others don’t of course).

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