Friday, 3 February 2017
by Oscar Wilde
Blood-red cloths, glossy waxed fruit, perfumed air and white skin characterize Theatre Lab's production of Oscar Wilde's 1893 oriental symbolist riff on the biblical story of Salomé with international cast.
The atmospheric surroundings of bijou restored music hall Hoxton Hall provide the perfect dark wood venue for the moonlit decadent birthday banquet in Herod's palace. The audience is seated on chairs on two sides facing the long banquet table stretching to the high stage.
The young women are either slumped at the table like mechanical dolls waiting to be wound up or as still as statues on a swing seat in an ivy bower dressed like ballerinas out of a Edgar Degas painting.
Crystal decanters filled with wine, sparkling glasses, peacock feathers and real fruit mixed with wax versions spill over q table draped with a red tablecloth hung with gold braid (set dresser Maira Vazeou)..A silver flute lies waiting to be played.
Transferred from fin de siècle to the 1930s, this production has a Herod (Greek actor Konstantinos Kavakiotis) in white face with black eyeliner, a silent film plutocrat in full jazz age nightclub black dinner dress.
His wife Herodias (Helen Bang from Denmark), a handsome woman in black lace past her youth but relishing the excess, is the palace's very own Gloria Swanson.
The Moon (Annabelle Brown) and Herod's unattainable step-daughter Salomé (Spanish American actress Denise Moreno), bathed in its light. has already entranced the young Syrian captain (French-accented Benoit Gouttenoire) with tragic consquences.
Virginal Salomé meanwhile has come to lust after the charismatic prophet Iokannan (Matthew Wade) who has earned the wrath of Herod for condemning the court and particuliarly Queen Herodias.
But the combination of wine, power, music and the moonlight moves Herod to alight his gaze on his step-daughter with disruptive results. He begs her to dance for him at any price and she agrees - extracting from him a terrible transgressive price.
Combining dance, flute, glockenspiel, accordion, trumpet and voice, this is a sensual, stylized vibrant production directed with care and fluidity by Anastasia Revi, with music direction by Annabelle Brown who also performs.
Costume designer Valentina Sanna styles the piece with, amongst other garb, calico ballet tutus for the young women and art deco geometric shaped tunics for the Syrian and the Man Of The Palace (Tobias Deacon in an engaging performance).
Orientalism was probably as close to legitimate pornography as the Victorian sensibility allowed.
However even Salomé did not escape the censure of the Lord Chamberlain, ostensibly for breaching the ban on depicting biblical characters on stage. And its erotic reputation allied with the playwright's sexual notoriety doubtless led to the gullibility of Wilde's biographers in wrongly stating, in all seriousness, the photograph of a female opera singer in Richard Strauss's opera adaptation was "Oscar Wilde in drag".
In our times, Salome has gained an appreciative audience for its hypnotic rhythms and distinctive rhetoric as well as its power and gender relationships which have resonance in our global, celebrity-obsessed consumer age.
Wisely, Revi breaks the declamatory nature of the piece intermittently with humour as the words are turned to mine their 21st century comic potential. The Man of the Palace resorts to lists in his desperation to avert tragedy and Herod breaks the fourth wall seeking the audience's approbation as he unleashes a drama in which he is an unwilling actor.
With its clever conception and both international and French sensibility (Wilde originally wrote the play in French), this is an intriguing, sensual piece which robustly maintains a delicate balance deserving in our view a green light.