By Danielle Farrow
Oscar Wilde’s Salomé is a verse piece with a very strong seductive rhythm. His words are gorgeous, sumptuous and descriptive of decadence, reflecting the court of Herod wherein the play is set. All of this needs a production that can play with the rhythm and really make visceral the words.
Wilde’s words are not so supported here, where the strength of Time Zone Theatre’s adaptation is in images. Rich reds, cold blues and tableau visuals suck you into this world where Jokanaan (John the Baptist) calls out in Hebrew, adding texture but included at the cost of Wilde’s prophetic riddles. Jokanaan’s voice, while clear, does not have a great deal of power, but his meeting with Salomé starts with real frissons of passion. After that initial moment, he dutifully keeps himself from looking at her before returning to his cell, only to be heard a few more times, sometimes in English.
But that promising start to their meeting is one of only a few moments where the performers’ speech and physicality inform each other, where there is more going on than words spoken with a naturalistic style that does not allow the lyrical poetry and huge passions to soar, grunt, howl and whisper as they really should. Herod and Salomé, while clear in delivery and engaging in private thought, do not give themselves over to the extremes and quick changes expressed by their characters, and a particularly slow scene gained its only interest from a forced sexual act that makes little sense of Herod’s continued pleas and final surrender to Salomé (though this may have worked with different playing).
A chorus of three play all the roles that are not Salomé, Herod or Jokanaan, which is sometimes confusing. They are moved around the space well, though, and assume unobtrusive positions when the focus needs to be on Salomé and Herod, while a recurring physical motif of ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ relates to the strong theme of looking / not looking.
Boxes with reflective surfaces provide seating and a raised level, but a lot of the action takes place on the ground – not always fully visible to the entire audience, but where the best lighting is, helped by two floor lanterns reflected in the boxes and a plastic floor covering. Occasional ‘strange music’ enhances moments of tension, well created by the chorus at the start, and Salomé’s dance (rather short) is performed to the beats of the chorus on floor and boxes.
Greater boldness in verbal style and performance choices would enhance this Salomé, making the most of Wilde’s passions and poetry and avoiding certain plodding sections, but some audience members felt impressed by the acting and this production of Salomé does draw you into a textured world where blood is strongly sensed and Salomé’s salacious story unfolds.