Salomé written by Oscar Wilde, was originally written in French in Paris 1891, and was later translated into English. For many years, Salomé was banned from British theatres due to a censorship law forbidding the staging of scriptural characters. It wasn’t until after Wilde’s death in 1900, that a private performance took place in London (in 1905), and then later in 1931, the first public performance took place. Critics at the time believed that time had lessened the impact of such a play and were less than enthusiastic.
Lazarus Theatre Company have taken up the challenge of staging this play, but in their own style. Their reimagining of classic tales brings a freshness to the telling of the stories and after performing Salomé previously at the Greenwich Theatre, the company have brought the show to Southwark Playhouse.
Traditionally, Salomé is the daughter of Queen Herodias who left her husband the previous King; (King Herod’s brother), to marry Herod. Salomé is, therefore, Herod’s stepdaughter. Lazarus, have gender swapped Salomé so that this character is now a gay man.
For those who do not know the story of Salomé, the play begins at a banquet that is being held by King Herod (Jamie O’Neill) and a young soldier (Omi Mantri) and Herodias’ Page (George Ray Turner) discuss Salomé and the soldier admits that he cannot take his eyes off him, he is besotted. Jokanaan (John the Baptist), played by Prince Plockley, has a certain contempt for Queen Herodias (Pauline Babula), as he believes that her relationship with her ex-husband’s brother bordered on incest. Salomé has so far been a picture of virtue, but as he begins to see the affect he has on others, he begins to feel his own sexuality. When his stepfather Herod demands that he dance for him, he realises the power he has over the men that worship him, and that this sexual attraction can work in his favour.
He cannot win over Jokanaan though, when Salomé looks upon him and describes how he looks in detail (which is forbidden for a holy man), Jokanaan will not submit to his demands for a kiss.
The audience are almost a part of this play, as they are seated at either side of the stage close to a long banqueting table which gives the appearance of them being guests at the party. Salomé spends most of the play standing on the table which raises him above the audience, whilst Jokanaan (who is supposedly incarcerated, appears on stage to voice his prophecies), wanders around the table, giving the impression that he has to look up at Salomé, as though from his prison. King Herod’s relationship with the Queen is tempestuous, and their verbal skirmishes indicate an unhappy relationship.
Even though the stage design is very simple (designed by Sorcha Corcoan), the addition of props that are used within the play add a movement quality and the adaptation of the play and its superb direction can be attributed to Ricky Dukes. The costumes are kept reasonably simple, which sets Jokanaan apart as he is very obviously dishevelled and not pretty to look at. When Salomé performs his dance (previously the dance of the seven veils), he wears the dress that has been given to him at the request of Herod. He seductively plays with Herod by slowly dancing and taking off the gloves, this demonstration confirms his control of Herod, and the flowering of his sexuality is too much for Herod that he offers him anything he may wish for.
The period that Wilde set this play in was a bloody one, and death or the threat of death is never far away. The gory nature of its ending is spectacular in its execution, and with a modernisation of this major scene, it has the expected impact. Excellent performances from the cast make this a play that should be seen whilst it is still available.
I reviewed this play at home, and Lazarus are using the digital medium to make their plays more accessible. This is to be applauded, as during the pandemic, digital productions gave a very welcome chance for everyone to experience home theatre and a section of our communities who cannot normally attend the theatres because of disability; an opportunity to feel included.
Salomé runs until the 11th September at Southwark Playhouse, follow the link to book tickets – https://www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/show-whats-on/salome/#schedule
Reviewer: Caroline Worswick
Reviewed: 31st August 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★