Theatre Review: Salome @ Hampstead Theatre

Franco Milazzo
By Franco Milazzo Last edited 104 months ago
Theatre Review: Salome @ Hampstead Theatre

Zawe Ashton in Salome (c) Helen Warner
Between his only novel (The Picture Of Dorian Gray) and his most famous plays, Oscar Wilde wrote the blank verse play Salome in 1891. Wilde’s tale of sexual greed and brutal revenge, not shown in Britain for almost forty years due to obscenity laws, has been brought to vivid life at North London’s Hampstead Theatre by the Headlong theatre group (who are also producing the highly recommended Lulu at the Gate Theatre).

Although over a century old (and based on a story much older), this one-act play directed and adapted by Jamie Lloyd has many modern touches: Herod’s troops are armed with automatic weapons as well as swords and knives while the music to Salome’s Dance Of The Seven Veils is provided by a gaudy boombox. During the dance, Herod masturbates furiously, his "petit mort" presaging the actual death of Iokanann (aka St John The Baptist). The set designer, Soutra Gilmour, has created a stark environment of black sand and bright lights which is used to drive the dramatic narrative to its terrible conclusion.

Lloyd has taken Wilde’s original work and added his own visual style. Zawe Ashton plays Salome as a decadent, petulant and wanton chav princess, spurned by Seun Shote’s Iokanann, a fearsome, glistening sight when on stage and an apocalyptic voice when off. Con O’Neill’s tetrarch Herod is an outrageously bisexual drunk, staggering across the set, stopping only to sexually molest a soldier and drink more and even more wine while drinking in the very sight of his niece and step-daughter Salome.

Unlike much of Wilde’s other work, there are few bon mots here and far less cynicism than usual. In its place we have a deliciously dark morality tale which, while packing few surprises in terms of plot, is an exciting ride into the depths of the human soul.

Salome can be seen at the Hampstead Theatre until July 17. Tickets can be booked here and a trailer can be seen here.

Last Updated 27 June 2010