Review by Franco Milazzo
As more one than one US President has amply demonstrated in recent years, the combination of supreme power and bottomless lust is an all-too-common recipe for disaster. It is this dynamic that takes centre stage in Theatre Lab Company’s exquisitely designed Salome, opening this week at Hoxton Hall.
Oscar Wilde’s once-risque take on the classic Biblical tale was initially banned in England and is of a different mood to his more witty and well-known works. Away from the Victorian dining room settings of The Importance of Being Earnest and The Picture Of Dorian Gray, Salome takes place in an altogether different age and the archaic language and prosaic story arc reflect this. In his eyes, the Irishman sees the title character as both victim and victimiser and plays strongly on the young woman’s hypersexualisation in the eyes of her stepfather Herod and his followers.
As played by Konstantinos Kavakiotis, this King is a vainglorious ruler who has married his brother’s wife but has eyes only for her daughter. The beautiful Salome (Denise Moreno) teases, tempts and taunts him by turns, a sadistically sexual torture which is encouraged by her besotted sot of a mother Herodias (Helen Bang). The Princess is willing to dance for her stepfather – but only if she can have the head of her denier, the prophet Iokannan.
Director Anastasia Revi vividly brings this court to life, regularly illustrating its louche decadence through emphasis of deeds and words; news of a suicide is met with laughter while carnal appetites of all kinds – be it for food, fornication or fellatio – are whetted throughout. Meanwhile, Iokannan is busy decrying Salome as a “daughter of Sodom”; perhaps princesses were conceived differently in those days.
The production makes fantastic use of this recently renovated music hall. The action is set in the round with the audience seated around and above a long banquet table on the floor with the main stage and balconies also used to create an immersive atmosphere. Annabelle Brown (who is both the production’s musical director and plays the character of Eros) adds atmospheric touches to the dramatic narrative through simple yet powerful instrumentation – here a trumpet, there a xylophone or an accordion – which underscore the plot without diminishing the impact of Wilde’s words.
The cast is, in the main, superb. In her tutu, Moreno’s Salome is slight of figure but stout of presence, a capricious creature equally adept with carrot and stick; her sharp tongue and skilful dance moves are deftly used together to gain her heart’s desire. As the Queen, Bang is not given enough chances to truly shine but she does well with what she has and commands the stage when she speaks. Matthew Wade’s Iokannan is an immensely charismatic figure even when trussed up like a shibari student. Kavakiotis’ portrayal of the King is so over-the-top that only NASA could keep track of the ludicrous heights it reaches.
The production, sadly, is hoist by Wilde’s petard, especially his penchant for magniloquent language and an ending which goes on for far too long. At 70 minutes, this play is short but not to the point and, in the final scene, many will be imploring the King to just give in to the obstinate subject of his lust and bring both matters and Salome to a head.
Salome continues at Hoxton Hall until Saturday 11 February. Tickets are £12-£22. This play is recommended only for those 16 and above.