Salome: A Feminist Interpretation

Salome at The Space ★★★☆☆

Kyra Hanson
By Kyra Hanson Last edited 29 months ago
Salome: A Feminist Interpretation Salome at The Space 3
Salome dancing for Herod in rehearsal. Photo: Sam Jeffery (2015)

With its overindulgence in superficial, superfluous similes and lavish language, Oscar Wilde's dialogue perfectly suits a modern interpretation of Salome, as it points toward the self-obsessed, selfie-stick waving loonies we've become.

Similarly the dialogue in which the prophet Jokanaan suggests Salome should "cover thy face with a veil" has relevance to the way clothes, and in particular the way women dress, can be a sign of oppression as well as expression.

But don't be fooled by its feminist credentials; this is not a play of female empowerment, the male gaze is as strong as ever. Instead Theatre Libre’s adaptation exposes how women in particular are conditioned into self-obsession.  

The play opens with Salome wrapped in a shroud, as if ready for burial (and foreshadowing events to come), but she is soon stripped of her layers, and her tentative movements which begin twitchy and self-conscious are moulded and manipulated violently by the other characters. Eventually she is able to repeatedly contort her body into Kim Kardashian-style poses without being prompted. This suggests the way women can often internalise their own subjugation.

It's a powerful opening scene which highlights the way female bodies are forced to conform to ideals of beauty and femininity, not just through digital manipulation but in the physical world, through makeup, dieting products and plastic surgery. The characters of Salome and her mother Herodias (the neglected wife of Herod) highlight a culture in which women are both hyper-sexualised and infantilised. Sound familiar?

Theatre Libre is a physical theatre company and the most successful scenes are those carried along by the dynamism of the physical body. In the central scene Salome must dance for Herod and as the music shifts, her dancing becomes more erratic, as if she is thinking of Jokanaan. Yet her dance is always for men, never for herself.

Although Wilde's play is still relevant about the way women are treated in today's society, ultimately this could never be a truly feminist play. Salome is not harnessing her own sexuality for empowerment, instead she is harnessing a construction of sexuality which was man's making, not her own. The construction is dismantled with the final lines of the play uttered by Herod, "Kill the woman."

Salome is on at The Space, 269 Westferry Road, E14 3RS, until 19 September. Tickets £10/£12. Londonist saw this show on a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 04 September 2015