Image: Barons Court Theatre
Yannis - Miles Le Vesha
Salome - Franciska Steiner
Herod - Neil Weatherall
Herodias - Vanessa Corradi
Tigelina - Tania Firth
Page of Herodias - Adi Loya
The Cappadocian - Stefania Antonescu
Roxanne - Maria Myrie
First soldier/ Jew - Jake Eiseman Renyard
Second soldier/ Naaman - Yasser Kayani
Manasseh - Cherrie Ho
Alexia - Vasoula Christodoulou
"Salome, Salome, dance for me. I pray thee dance for me".
At King Herod's palace, the young captain Narraboth admires the beautiful princess Salome, who sits at the banquet table with her stepfather …
What follows is a feast of blood lust, eroticism and total decadence culminating in the most famous dance and beheading in history.
Oscar Wilde purloined the basics of this story from the Bible, but added a few imaginative extra twists for dramatic effect and, possibly, a bit of titillation to boot.
Now, Wilde's reworking of events has become more the accepted version than what one actually finds in the Holy Book.
The original version of the play was written in French and published in 1893.
The show was in rehearsals for a London production in 1892, but was banned by the censor on the spurious grounds that it was illegal for biblical characters to be portrayed on stage.
The play went on to be premiered in Paris in 1896 (while its author was languishing in prison) and eventually got a London airing in 1905.
Here, the play is performed by the Stage Theatre Company in what is a fairly small area to accommodate both a substantial cast and a play that really requires room to breathe to effect some air of opulence and to allow for the featured dance of the seven veils.
The plot revolves around the prophet, John The Baptist, who has been incarcerated by Herod Antipas.
Somewhat confusingly, John is Jokanaan in Wilde's original and here becomes Yannis.
To add to the confusion, Yannis speaks in unintelligible riddles.
"We don't understand what he says", one of the characters exclaims, and the King's wife says he "speaks like a drunk", but presumably such is the nature of prophets.
More intelligible are John's endless ranting references to abominations on which he seems totally fixated.
Almost out of the blue, Salome takes a fancy to Yannis - well, that is actually a gross understatement because she is totally and utterly besotted with him, desperate to stroke his body and kiss him.
Yannis, though, finds her repulsive and she doesn't take kindly to his refusal to kiss her.
Herod offers Salome anything she demands - even half his kingdom - if only she will dance for him.
But he is shocked when Salome, egged-on by her severe and bitter mother, asks for the head of Yannis as her reward for performing the dance of the seven veils.
Salome is a one act play, so it's fairly short and even though some of Yannis's declarations couldn't be decoded by MI5, GCHQ or AI for that matter, it's fairly clear what the story is about and what is happening.
Even so, we don't really get to completely understand Salome's true motivations for her sudden and publicly expressed lust for John nor her subsequent demands for his head, which seems oddly excessive and presenting her as viciously vindictive.
The cast grew in confidence as the play progressed, but really needed the support of much stronger direction - particularly with movement and actions - as it is, some of the staging is rather static and repetitively uninteresting.
Too much consideration seems to have been spent on the overall conceptual presentation of the piece, and too little on the more basic elements of making the characters believable and realistic especially in terms of their actions and speech.
For example, there's a lengthy audio introduction which did little to enhance or clarify the story, but in any case would have been much more interesting presented by a character on-stage.
Similarly, the tragic quality of the drama rather gets lost in an added final scene which seemed strangely mischievous if not farcical, but also rather pointless.
And that sense of comic mischief is also reflected in the guise of the executioner who is present as the audience take their seats and bears a hefty chopper - of the axe variety - and wears a gaudy silver mask, which made me wonder if this was meant to be a comic version of Salome.
That comic quality also appears in a scene where one character commits suicide and others stand in front of the body so Herod won't see it!
Hampered to some extent by space restrictions, this production will no doubt improve as the cast settle into their roles, but some of the creative decisions serve to confuse rather than enhance Wilde's biblical tragedy.
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ActDrop listing for Barons Court Theatre
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