SALOMÉ at Greenwich Theatre
You need to be at the top of your game to make a success of Salomé, Oscar Wilde’s challenging symbolist prose-poem about the beheading of John the Baptist. Get it right and you have a triumphant tragedy. Get it wrong and you are left with an overheated melodrama – and the dividing line between the two is hair-thin.
It is to Lazarus Theatre Company’s great credit that they have largely avoided the pitfalls in their run at Greenwich Theatre thanks to director Ricky Dukes’ brilliantly simple staging and some fine acting.
Dukes’ decision to make Salomé a man is highly effective, underscoring both the hypocrisy of Wilde’s persecution for homosexuality and the progress made since in gender politics. Bailey Pilbeam is excellent in the role, managing to be alluring and needy without becoming a caricature.
Jamie O’Neill makes a convincingly despotic and carnal Herod, Annemarie Anang is splendidly regal as his disdainful wife Herodias and Jamal Renaldo captures the fanatical mysticism of the Baptist perfectly. They are given excellent support by Michael Hewlett, David Clayton, Jordan Paris, Cal Chapman and Hattie Wilkinson as courtiers, soldiers and officials.
Dukes’ fabulous set design based on rows of gold balloons makes the production glow with a sense of opulence and, crucially, impermanence while his clever use of slo-mo and freeze-frame sequences all add to the strangeness of the atmosphere.
The only time the action steps over into soap opera is during the notorious dance of the seven veils when Herod is reduced to a quivering masturbatory mess on the floor. It sparked laughter on the night I saw it – surely not the intention.
That aside, this is a powerful production of a challenging drama and is a fitting way for Lazarus to end their two-year residency at Greenwich Theatre.
Salomé runs till May 25th. More info at https://www.greenwichtheatre.org.uk/events/salome