Once-Banned Opera Salome Is Back On The London Stage

Salome, London Coliseum ★★★★☆

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Once-Banned Opera Salome Is Back On The London Stage Salome, London Coliseum 4
Salome at London Coliseum - review
(c) Catherine Ashmore

Richard Strauss’s opera Salome, based on the Oscar Wilde play of the same name, was banned in the West End once upon a time. But its instructive tale of corrupt sexuality and the female experience today feels like something that should scarcely be kept off the stage. Allison Cook makes a fearsome ENO debut in the title role.

At the dark heart of the Salome story is a woman so victimised by a powerful male that she cannot but lash out with equal, possessive violence. Many know what goes down here (princess’s advances spurned by John the Baptist; princess manipulated by weird step-dad Herod into doing a sexy dance; princess requests John’s head on a platter in return), but few of us will have seen it enacted quite as gratuitously as this.

Salome at London Coliseum - review
(c) Catherine Ashmore

It all unfolds as if an unhinged Turner Prize unveiling; each scene coming at you as a grotesque art installation might. Fleshy bodies appear in fish tanks, are scrutinised under huge light fixtures, or simply play as shadows across bare walls. Blood is everywhere; splashed about by Herod (a magnificently disgusting Michael Colvin).  

Salome at London Coliseum - review
(c) Catherine Ashmore

Assumedly the story’s fixation with ‘gaze’ is responsible for all this. The most lurid provocation of all is Salome’s dance. Flanked by ponytail-waggling dancers who might have walked off the Ariana Grande tourbus, this key scene sees the princess get nasty with a baseball bat — and culminates in the literal flogging of a dead horse. Nothing’s shocking these days, but here’s a better operatic attempt than most.

Salome, London Coliseum, St Martin’s Lane, WC2N 4ES. Tickets from £12, until 23 October 2018.

Last Updated 01 October 2018