Saturday, February 4, 2017
Review: 'Salome' at Hoxton Hall, 2nd February 2017
Saturday, February 4, 2017 by londoncitynights
Mark 6:22 - "When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests". From such humble beginnings sprung Oscar Wilde's once notorious Salome. Banned from the London stage until 30 years after its publication, Wilde delivers a potent cocktail of pressure cooker sexuality, stomach-churning decadence and tightly wound symbolism.
The setting is the court of King Herod Antipas (Konstantinos Kavakiotis), son of King Herod the Great (of 'Massacre of the Innocents' fame). Herod senior probably wasn't the greatest provider of paternal love, what with the baby-killing n' all, so perhaps understandably Antipas has never had children of his own. He has, however, married his dead brother's wife Herodias (Helen Bang), who has a daughter from her former marriage, Princess Salome (Denise Moreno).
Salome has fallen in love with hairy-headed John the Baptist (Matthew Wade), but John, known here as Iokanaan, doesn't reciprocate. Enraged, Salome manipulates her powerful stepfather into granting her anything she desires in return for a dance. He obliges, and Salome more than delivers on the promise of the dance, but proceeds to shock her father by demanding Iokanaan's head served up to her on a platter as a reward.
Wilde, attracted to the tale of Salome's tale by the Oriental eroticism of Gustave Moreau's painting of her, found Salome's tale pregnant with dramatic possibilities. He took the bones of the story, originally intended as a straightforward fable about the dangers of female sexuality, and reshaped them into a complex poetic inquiry about lust and power. Here, Salome is primarily considered an object of desire, by both her horny stepdad and his lieutenants. She accepts her and internalises this objectification, reflecting this lust outwards at Iohanaan. When he doesn't respond she has him objectified for her pleasure.
Anastasia Revi's production is set during the 1930s, her international cast making the precise location tricky to pin down. But there's a distinctly fascist tone to proceedings, most obviously in the stench of patriarchy that suffuses the production, but including the coke-fuelled rantings, feverish consumption of luxury and nihilistic loosening of inhibitions among those with power. Herod and Herodias behave as if this might be their last dinner before khaki-clad rebels bust the door down and summarily execute the lot of them.
The cranked up tone and bucketloads of symbolism reminded me of the films of Alejandro Jodorowsky (particularly The Holy Mountain and The Dance of Reality): art that gets under the skin of fascism. This Salome doesn't show us the jackbooted oppression of fascism, but the psychological consequences of keeping so much suppressed - Salome's demand for a mutilated head to pleasure herself with a logical consequence of a lifetime spent immersed in warped fash sexuality.
The recently refurbished Hoxton Hall makes a fine setting for all this. The majority of the show is staged around a large crimson dining table, dotted with bowls of fruit, sickly sweet wine and mounds of coke. The table thrusts into the audience, making us feel less like observers and more like silent onlookers at Herod's big bash. Up on stage there's a gigantic moon on the rear curtain, together with a wrought iron swing for Salome to tantalisingly dangle on. It allows the performers a great deal of mobility, which in turn stuffs Salome with electric energy.
Much of this is through the impressively intense performance of Kavakiotis as Herod. He delivers a deeply operatic (and soon deeply sweaty) performance, gesticulating wildly and charging about the stage with lust in his eyes. Helen Bang (who I admired the hell out of in Edward Bond's Dea) is a perfect foil for Herod, abandoning her dignity and sanity in favour of hedonism. You sense that somewhere deep within is a sane woman trying to get out, but being crushed under the weight of her overbearing husband.
But it's Denise Moreno's Princess Salome that dominates, simultaneously vulnerable and deadly. Dressed as Swan Lake's Odette she has razorblade features, the physicality of a jaguar and eyes that seem to bore right through you. Her climactic 'dance of the seven veils' is erotic, beautiful and terrifying, more than living up to the high billing given in the text. I see a hell of a lot of plays and quickly forget most of them, but Salome's dance is firmly lodged in the old grey matter
This is a fine production of a piece of drama that positively bristles with symbolic meaning. Revi's interpretation is wide enough to allow for a multitude of interpretations while still maintaining an admirable focus. I suspect Wilde would approve.
Salome is at Hoxton Hall until 11 February. Tickets and details here.Tags: Denise Moreno , Helen Bang , Hoxton Hall , Konstantinos Kavakiotis , Matthew Wade , Oscar Wilde , Salome , theatre