Biblical scandal meets Oscar Wilde meets business casual in Lazarus Theatre Company’s new production of Salomé at Greenwich Theatre this May. In this rendition Salomé (Bailey Pilbeam) is a man, a move that updates and transforms the temptation of his dance for King Herod (Jamie O’Neill) which the play centres around. Directed and designed by Ricky Dukes, this show plays with Wilde’s themes in inspired ways.
The play and its characters are all obsessed with who is looking at whom, or more specifically, who is looking at whom languorously. Salomé can’t stop looking at the prophet Jokanaan (Jamal Renaldo), while Herod can’t stop looking at Salomé. Meanwhile, Salomé’s mother Herodias (Annemarie Anang), the rest of the court and the omnipresent moon look on in horror, amazement and more. Pilbeam’s performance, both during the infamous dance and elsewhere, is captivating as he breathes new life into the character and proves his dedication to Dukes’ carefully considered staging.
There is something cinematic about this production, particularly at the beginning of each half. Sometimes this works really well, thanks to the eerie sound design by Will Thompson and Hector Murray’s lighting design. In other places, however, particularly at the beginning of the play as Renaldo moves in slow motion across the stage, it is easy to think that some cinematic devices are better staying in the cinema. While the dialogue and props remain relatively true to the story’s place in history, the cast are dressed in contemporary suits. Perhaps this is an attempt to signal the play’s continued relevance, but I think more commitment needs to be made to the present-day setting if that is the case.
O’Neill’s spine-tingling performance of Herod is terrifying and funny but for me Anang’s depiction of Herodias is by far the most entertaining part of this show as she perfectly presents every side to her malevolent, mordant and maternal character. The rest of the court, played by Michael Howlett, David Clayton, Hattie Wilkinson, Jordan Paris and Cal Chapman, use their presence to keep this dark play moving forward as they sneak around the stage and theatre acting as a collective consciousness anticipating which reactions are appropriate and which reactions are uncontainable.
While Wilde’s play descends into the same unavoidable madness as ever, Lazarus Theatre Company’s twist on this classic certainly draws out something new even if it is something that has been lurking in the story the whole time.
Salomé is playing Greenwich Theatre until 25 May. For more information and tickets, see the Greenwich Theatre website.