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Review of Salomé at Greenwich Theatre

What is ‘power’? According to an online dictionary, power is the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behaviour of others or the course of events. However, even with this definition, whilst many people believe they have power, very few actually do. There is a moment in Game of Thrones when Queen Cersei, explains the concept to Lord Baelish in three words, “Power is power”. Knowing who actually wields power is one of the conundrums that remains at the end of Oscar Wilde’s 1891 play Salomé which is Lazarus Theatre Company’s final production in their season at Greenwich Theatre.

Things are not going well in the Roman province of Judea. Herod Antipas (Jamie O’Neill), the Tetrarch does not have a secure hold on the reigns of power in his country, Herod has many distractions in his life. There are rivals for his throne – which he basically holds at the will of Caesar – and there is unrest in his province. Chief among those causing unrest is a Judean prophet by the name of Jokanaan (Jamal Renaldo), currently languishing in the Tetrarch’s prison and shouting his thoughts and prophecies for all the world to hear. As well as the foretelling of the coming Messiah, Jokanaan never misses a chance to rail against Herod’s wife Herodias (Annemarie Anang), who was previously married to Herod’s brother, and who is understandably not happy at the vile things that the prophet shouts about her. Herod though refuses to do anything about Jokanaan, putting his own interpretation on the prophet’s words. Herod does have a problem with someone though. He is obsessed with the handsome young Prince Salomé (Bailey Pilbeam), son of his wife and therefore his stepson and nephew. For his part, Salomé does not reciprocate any feelings his stepfather may have and, after illicitly being shown Jokanaan, Salomé has become obsessed with possessing the prophet and having him to himself. On a hot moon-drenched night, all of the obsessions come to a head when Herod promises his stepson that, “If you dance for me, you may ask of me what you will, and I will give it to you, even unto the half of my kingdom.

Jamie O'Neill as Herod, Annemarie Anang as Herodias. Shot by Adam Trigg.

Jamie O’Neill as Herod, Annemarie Anang as Herodias. Photo by Adam Trigg.

This was my first time of seeing the Oscar Wilde version of Salomé, though I have seen the Strauss opera – but more of that later. The first thing I have to ask is why was this presented as a two-act play? The original is, I believe one act and the addition of an interval was, to my mind a mistake which broke the flow of the narrative. My other gripe with the show is the wordiness. Wilde is obviously one of those who subscribe to the “why use one word when you can use twenty” theories of writing and really, really believes in repeating himself. For example, the scene where Salomé meets Jokanaan, where I got to the point that if the prince had said, “I’m going to kiss your lips” one more time I thought I might rush on stage to kiss and stop him talking any more. Having said that, there were some really lyrical moments in the text. This is particularly true when Herod is trying – with almost Trumpian boasting – to persuade Salomé to ask for anything but the head of Jokanaan. However, there were times when the addition of distinctly twenty-first-century language to the original nineteenth-century script doesn’t fully work.

Making Salomé a male character worked well and Bailey Pilbeam may be young but had a wonderful self-possession in his performance bringing the sultriness and innocence of Salomé to life wonderfully. The ‘dance of the seven veils’ – which was performed to the music from the Strauss opera – was a wonderful, teasing striptease with the removal of seven items (and yes I did count to make sure) that had a profound and very obvious effect on Jamie O’Neill’s Herod. As a character, Herod must be difficult to play as he runs through a mass of contradictory personalities during the story – everything from a fawning servant of Ceaser through to a man on the brink of mental collapse. O’Neill portrays every facet really well and, in his interactions with his wife, you see a couple that have grown to pretty much despise each other but keep together for the sake of appearance. Indeed, given Herod’s ruthlessness, I’m surprised he didn’t have his wife done away with long before we get to meet them.

There are some really superb moments in Ricky Dukes’ expert direction and to give an example during the second act, look at the body language of Herodias and Salomé as they face Herod. The two stand erect, with fists clenched and impassive faces with the mother/son bond so obvious between them as they stand. Full credit also goes to Hector Murray and Will Thompson for their highly evocative lighting and sound. Lazarus, as a company are not big on sets and this production is no exception. Gold balloons, cups and candelabras dominated the stage and surrounding area, suggesting a party. But the gold was burnished and not quite gleaming which, to me signalled a king trying to make others believe everything is golden whilst, in reality, things were cheap and tawdry.

Salomé, being set in 2019 still works really well as an observation of the current state of world politics. A ruler more interested in glamour than substance, who is convinced everyone is out to get them and puts their own interpretation on everything they hear. Sound familiar?

Overall, this has been an extremely strong season for Lazarus Theatre Company. Three very different plays, each given a contemporary twist that, on the whole, improved the stories and increased their relevance to a modern audience.

4 Stars

Review by Terry Eastham

Oscar Wilde’s scintillating Salomé hits the stage in this all new LGBTQ focussed production.
Salomé, Salomé, dance for me. I pray thee dance for me…
King Herod asks Salomé to dance for him… this request leads to The Dance of the Seven Veils and one of the most shocking, thrilling and scandalous climaxes ever seen on stage.

Originally banned in Britain, Wilde’s outrageously provocative Salomé comes to the stage in this exotic and exquisite new production and features as the finale to our second year-long residency at The Greenwich Theatre.

Salomé is suitable for ages 16 plus and contains full male nudity and scenes of a sexual and violent nature.
Making his Lazarus Debut Bailey Pilbeam takes on the title role of Salomé. Returning to the company; Jamie O’Neill (Edward II, Revenger’s Tragedy) plays the role of King Herod and David Clayton (Edward II, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Tempest) plays the role of Guard to Herodias. Also making their Lazarus Debuts; Annemarie Anang plays the role of Herodias. Jamal Renaldo plays the role of Jokannaan, Michael Howlett plays the role of The Young Soldier. Hattie Wilkinson plays the role of The Official. Jordan Paris plays the role of First Solider and Cal Chapman plays Second Soldier.

Salomé
at The Greenwich Theatre.
By Oscar Wilde
Tuesday 15th – 25th May, 2019
https://www.greenwichtheatre.org.uk/

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Terry Eastham

About Terry Eastham

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1 Comment

  • Agree generally with this review. Good: Saw it last night, would recommend for a night out – price is right. A for effort, and concept. Some strong moments. But at times it felt like the actors were dragging a cart of flea market antiques up a hill. And to have all the overstated warning signs all over the theatre – WHY? We’re adults. This seemed like an excellent university fringe production.

    *spoiler alert* Now, for the ‘full male nudity’ – if you’re going to say it, DELIVER. This is problematic on two frontals: One, it’s being marketed to be a tease and while the actor is beautiful and brave, and the actual scene quite appealing, — c’mon: White Gym-Bunny Boxers? Then, an ill-fitting red robe donated by someone’s Gran?

    Second, is the actual, ya’ know – theme of the play. The entire fulcrum is the fact that the audience is lured by the beauty of Salomé, and when they get it, it’s a mirror – a sad reckoning of watching something so alluring turn ugly from the inside, and you have to walk home wrestling with it. This happens, IF YOU DELIVER.

    The problem with the “Gender Fluid” quota crowd is, that they do concept kitsch very well, and it sounds great on social media. However the depth just gets lost. You might take some notes from 60s counter culturists and sexual liberators…you aren’t the first to Free Willy on stage, despite the historical amnesia of today’s young audiences. 



    Do something with lighting, come up with a see-through G-string – anything – but to present a shameless character who’s called for the severed head of a Holy Man and PROPHET, who’s been omnisciently the voice of God, Almighty throughout the first half, and then direct said character to shamefully cover himself – please, spare us the pollyanna highbrow conceptual excuses – either do it or just don’t. 



    This is probably the first gender-switch-thing I’ve seen that actually is arguably workable, and a great idea & new twist, inside a work of a genius. It actually poves the prowess of Wilde and the point of fluidity in total. (He himself played Salome so technically this is not the first). So, with all the other bad gender farces we’ve suffered so far, for all that’s good and thespian, go there, we can handle it. These actors seemed ready to take the ride – if not, get some who will.



    Quibble: the music choices – sigh. The laugh wasn’t worth throwing the mood.

    Again, the night was worth £15, there’s some really really great moments, the Herod character comes alive, and the intellect of Wilde provides a piece so timeless and intelligent that it challenges anything in the West End or on TV for certain. 

It will be nice to see if directors like this mature into an ability of fulfilling the noise of these not-so-new, new concepts.