Writer: Oscar Wilde
Director: Anastasia Revi
Reviewer: Chris Rogers
When Oscar Wilde spoke of Salomé, he often referred to it as a composition. The recurring phrases ‘bind it together like a piece of music with recurring motifs’ and he marked that the French language he had written it in was a new instrument to play. Anastasia Revi certainly delivers a cacophony of sound and fury in the beautifully refurbished Hoxton Hall.
Famous for being banned from performance for its biblical content in 1892, Wilde reimagined the story to centre on the virgin princess, contributing to the tones of lust and desire now inseparable to the name Salomé.
Salomé, step-daughter of King Herod, flees from the birthday celebrations of her step-father. She hears the prophet Iokanaan (John the Baptist) cursing her mother Herodias for marrying her husband’s brother-in-law. Salome demands to meet him. She charms Narraboth to bring Iokanaan to her despite Herod’s orders that Jochanaan may talk with no one.
Iokanaan comes before her crying prophecies about Herod and Herodias. Salomé, enticed by the fact he doesn’t want her, falls in lust with him. She offers herself to him thrice and is rejected. Iokanaan curses her and is taken back to his prison. Narraboth, unable to accept that Salome loves another, kills himself.
Herod enters, followed by his wife and court. He slips Nabarroth’s blood and marks the bad omen. Despite the pleas of Herodias, he stares lustfully at Salomé. Iokanaan harasses Herodias from his prison, calling her incestuous marriage to Herod sinful. She demands that Herod silence him. Herod refuses, and she mocks his fear.
Herod asks Salomé first to eat, then drink, then sit with him, all three of which she refuses. Finally, Herod begs Salomé to dance for him. He promises to reward her with any wish her heart desires — even if it were one-half of his kingdom. Having made Herod vow, Salomé performs the Dance of the Seven Veils enrapturing the king. Herod, is ready to grant her soul’s desire. Despite it being Herod’s greatest fear, Salomé asks Herod for the head of Iokanaan in a silver charger.
Revi sets the play in a fantasy, borrowing the lust, lace and liquor of the 1930’s, and combining them with a Victorian sprinkle of ballet and opera, as well as evident notes of her Greek heritage.
An array of colour and energy, the play bursts onto stage and quickly presents all of its harmonic parts. Annabelle Brown skillfully underlines the action with an array of flutes, trumpets, and operatic singing while the text is delivered at pace. Revi knows to show the piece in symbols, tableaus, and movement that stare in the face of biblical proportion. She uses the space expertly, not falling into the trap of confining the piece to the tiny music hall stage.
It is a bold endeavour and clearly driven by a director not inhibited by British restraint. If anywhere, however, this is also where we find a flaw with the production. On occasion, the production is a bit shouty (no doubt due to its previous incarnations in larger theatres). At times the actors are overshadowed by the energy which, in a space as intimate as Hoxton Hall, takes away from watching the subtleties of the play.
The exception to this rule is Konstantinos Kavakiotis who straddles the role of Herod with the power of ancient Greek theatre and beautiful moments of introspection and wit. He is well matched by Herodias (Helen Bang) whose statuesque Queen egging her daughter on to murder reminds of Mozart’s Queen of the Night. A very funny Man of the Palace (Tobias Deacon) shows great humanity in the grand words of Oscar Wilde.
Within this spectacle of colour and music lives and dances Salomé (Denise Moreno). Moreno clearly is an accomplished dancer, a ballerina, perfectly visible in her stunning grace of movement. Revi presents her as the white swan of Swan Lake, an allusion to her virginity, and though this trope is overused, Moreno owns it well. The character of Salomé, however, falls prey to the loud antithesis within the play. The princess is cocksure and vicious when rejected; leaving little room to imagine the swan or any man believing himself to have the strength to surmount this harpy.
Nevertheless, all is forgiven with this stunning depiction of the seven veil dance. Both Salomé and the moon turn scarlet red While charming both Herod and the audience. In the final scene, a little too late, Moreno displays great depth of emotion.
If Salomé, as Wilde said, is music, then this production is a loud and colourful gypsy orchestra conducted by Karajan. Maybe not all the notes are right, but you’ll love the spectacle until the last quaver.
Runs until 11 February 2017 | Image: Contributed