Salome

Thu 25th – Sat 27th October 2012

reviews

Izzy Stones

at 03:27 on 26th Oct 2012

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I must make a confession: prior to viewing Kronos Productions’ adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s Salome I only had a limited knowledge of the story of Salome and I certainly was not the biggest Oscar Wilde fan. All I knew was that at some point a head would appear on a silver platter. My disclaimer, therefore, is that I cannot provide an intellectual discussion about how this particular adaptation compares with traditional productions. What I can and will do is provide you with a review of the play as a stand-alone performance and tell you why I, the Oscar Wilde/Salome-ignorant viewer, found it to be an engaging and captivating piece of theatre.

One of the most effective aspects of the production was the combined staging, lighting and set design. Upon entering, the audience is ushered to their seating on the stage alongside two actors who are already in character. This intimate setting made me feel like I was a part of the production, witnessing Salome’s descent into obsession and madness alongside the other characters. Particularly effective in creating this feeling was the use of burning incense sticks so that you could not only see and hear the scenes but smell them too. For those sitting on the front row – a series of cushions right on the floor of the stage – somatic senses were also evoked as they were able to touch the sandy floor of the set. A great deal of thought had clearly been put into creating this involvement of the audience by directors Ben Weaver-Hincks and Felix Stevenson. Whilst I think that this was extremely successful throughout the play, it was especially effective during Salome’s dance scene. The low lighting and subtle music combined with Grace Cheatle’s beautiful dancing made Salome’s bewitching nature around men very believable.

Whilst I thought the acting of all the cast was strong, I was especially impressed with Felix Stevenson’s portrayal of Herod. He communicated Herod’s complicated character with a great degree of skill, switching from a lecherous and repulsive man to a rather more pathetic and powerless one when begging Salome to reconsider her request. Felix also added a comedic aspect to an otherwise dark play, very effectively making a mockery of Herod by delivering certain lines in a caricature-like way to emphasise how ridiculous we are supposed to find him. This was also aided by his well-chosen costume and make-up – notably his over-the-top eye make-up.

If I were to make any criticism of the play, it would be that I wasn’t entirely convinced as to the wider message it was trying to convey. I knew that the decision to set the play in a modern-day war situation had been made for a particular reason, and I did pick up on the general themes presented, but I did have to research exactly what this reason was on the Kronos Productions website. This could, however, have just been due to my lack of knowledge regarding how the play has traditionally been performed and my enjoyment of the play was not at all affected by this. It was only upon reflection that I decided I wanted to know more about the ideas presented, which if anything reflects how engaging and intriguing a performance it was.

I can see why Kronos Productions’ interpretation of Salome was critically acclaimed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2012. It is a captivating, evocative, well-performed and well-directed piece. Whilst I have highlighted a few of my favourite aspects of the performance, I could never fully explain why the whole production worked so well. I suggest you go and see for yourself, even if you’ve never even heard the name Salome before.

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Amy Peters

at 08:11 on 26th Oct 2012

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Oscar Wilde is renowned for being controversial all by himself, but the added dimension of setting this once-banned play in the modern day Middle East only served to heighten its sense of scandal. This production was performed in an initially uncomfortably, intimate setting with the audience either lounging on cushions not even a foot away from the cast, or sitting on chairs on the stage itself. Before the performance began I was hesitant as to whether the proximity of the setting worked, but as soon as the show got properly underway I was convinced by the decision to have the audience’s presence so completely involved in the production. This play is host to some incredibly dark and unhinged characters – chiefly Herod and Salome herself – and the immediacy of the setting only served to amplify the intensity of the actors’ portrayal of these disturbed characters.

The plot – originally set in ancient lands but subtly adapted in this production to be set in present day – centres around Salome, the stepdaughter of King Herod, who becomes obsessed with the prophet Iokanaan, after he spurns her advances. Salome uses her stepfather’s attraction to her to manipulate him into punishing this prophet, all culminating in a disturbing conclusion.

Herod, Salome and Iokanaan are incredibly intense characters, all of which were mostly explored successfully by the cast. Felix Stevenson’s frenzied Herod was delightfully sickening to watch; his excitable fits of madness coupled with his slavish lust for his stepdaughter were depicted in such a way that brought a really manic dimension to this character. Perhaps occasionally speaking too fast for the audience to fully appreciate the weight of his words, Stevenson’s performance was nonetheless convincingly dark. Grace Cheatle as Salome was both haunting and vulnerable, and her memorable dance of the seven veils was truly a highlight of this play. It was, however, Charles Warner who was truly standout in this adaptation. Warner has the kind of voice that is deliciously rare to hear; deep, resounding and capable of carrying some serious emotional weight. I honestly think his performance was close to flawless. Cecily Money-Coutts as Herodius was also exceptional; dripping with disdain for her husband, and both protective and evidently jealous of her daughter in equal parts.

Overall, it was quite a successful and convincing adaptation of a classically controversial play. Weaver-Hincks’ and Stevenson’s transition of the setting from ancient to modern could have been more fully explored – a slight nod to the present through the use of khaki costumes was the only real hint at the play’s new period setting. However, the beautifully atmospheric lighting by Jonathan Nichols served to successfully distract the audience from any confusion they may have had about the play’s temporal location. Daring set-designs and exceptional acting from Warner and the rest of the cast served to successfully create a piece that is worth watching.

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Comments

Jonathan Nichols; 28th Oct 2012; 12:10:11

I'd just like to correct something - the lighting design for the Durham production was by Ophelie Lebrasseur rather than myself

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