Salomé is the femme fatale extraordinaire, as uncompromising as she is cruel – a spoiled princess who knows what she wants and won’t settle for less, equal parts virgin and lascivious whore. Théâtre Libre’s interpretation of Wilde’s Salomé delves deep into the complex and terrifying aspects of Salome’s nature, while also taking a feminist slant: much is made of the objectification she endures from the male gaze.
The play opens with an absorbing piece of choreography in which a couple of characters shape and control Salomé’s movements – clearly symbolic of how others constantly try to bend her will to theirs in the course of the play. More than any other character, the king Herod is guilty of objectifying and attempting to control her: he openly leers at her in a way that is very uncomfortable to watch and forces her to dance for him.
A schizoid, deranged quality to Salomé’s character comes to the fore most dramatically during her dance for the king, the centrepiece of the play. She begins seductively and with a contrived smile on her face, but there is a moment when she starts spinning, clawing at herself, and dancing in a jerky and frenzied fashion. Almost like a string unspooling, she completely loses control. Then she reverts back to her provocative mode of dancing, and it seems that neither the king nor queen have noticed her strange outburst.
Interestingly, Salomé destructively unleashes her derangement, not upon the king or other men who objectify her, but upon the one man who doesn’t want to look at her. We find out that the only reason she danced for the king was to procure her ferocious wish for the prophet Jokanaan’s head on a plate. It is this strange prophet who is subject to Salomé’s greatest fits of rage, after he has dismissed her as a whore. The more he spurns her, the more she desires him. In their first and only meeting, she becomes a swift slave to her passion, repeating over and over “let me kiss thy mouth!”, with greater urgency each time. Ultimately, this wish is granted: the play ends with Salomé holding Jokanaan’s severed head, passionately kissing his lips, in a gruesome tableau.
Théâtre Libre’s interpretation of Salomé is compelling. The only thing that jars is their attempt to set it in the modern day (notably when Salomé uses her mobile to take selfies), as this clashes with the archaic, Biblical-sounding language of the play itself. Even so, Liza Weber as Salomé is memorable and utterly convincing, playing up her lascivious, voracious and ultimately brutal nature. Weber’s immensely skilled dancing is the especial highlight and, in combination with well-chosen music and screen projections, amplifies the spectacle of this savage tale.
Salomé is playing at The Space until 19 September. For more information and tickets, see The Space website.