Salome (Oscar Wilde) Hampstead Theatre 26 June


Picture of Herod and Herodias from /

This production (credited to Headlong Theatre and The Curve Leicester) appeared to be set in the Niger delta with oozing oil and characters dressed in ragged denims waving sub machine guns.  Salome (Zawe Ashton) frequently referred to the body of Jokanaan (Seun Shote) as being exceedingly white, but he looked like a black man caked with oil to me.  She also at one point referred to her litter passing by ‘idol-buyers’ at a bridge; presumably she meant ‘idol-sellers’.  She didn’t get a silver charger to go with Jokanaan’s head either.

I’m not going to complain about the awful drab ugliness of the set (after all, war isn’t pretty), though in a play it would be helpful if one lost fewer of the words due to noisy machinery or characters facing away from you (in the middle of the stalls).

My complaint is that if the play is meant to be Decadent, then there must be something to decay.  Drunken oil-covered soldiers aren’t it.  The whole point of someone like Herod was to impress his power and glory on the populace (and so reassure his Roman patrons) by  continual awe-inspiring display.  So then this gives a lot of rose for the worm to gnaw at, both in the aesthetic hypertrophy breaking out in characters’ descriptions of the moon and so on and in Salome’s perverse desires undermining the painfully-maintained order of things.  Herod wandering around in decaying denim with what appears to be an article of Salome’s underwear round his head doesn’t really do it (not even if he was whited-up, which I think is the one historically-plausible item I noted).

On the positive side, I thought that Wilde’s text was actually rather good, as far as I could tell from this (mis)treatment…Maybe like ‘Lulu’ this one is better left as an opera…


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