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A CurtainUp London Review
Soutra Gilmour's set is a tarmac swamp with oil puddle slicks forming in parts of the set with bars along the rear for the chorus of camouflage suited soldiers to introduce their commentary and longing for the seductive but supposedly virginal Princess Salome in a throbbing rap. To the sides are extensive lighting rigs as if they are making a film in full light. In the centre there is a huge iron man hole cover where is imprisoned the prophet John the Baptist here called Iokanaan (a powerful and forceful performance from Seun Shote).
Zawe Ashton is the Lolita like figure — childish, sex obsessed, excitable, unstable, maybe even psychotic. She's as beautiful as she is openly desirous of the purity of the prophet. As her stepfather Herod (Co O'Neill) lusts after Salome so her white faced mother Herodias (Jaye Griffiths) shows disapproval and insecurity that she may lose her sexual hold over Herod if her daughter becomes his new favorite. Herodias becomes pleased with her daughter when, in return for the disco dance, she requests the head of her old enemy. This play is so full of the darkest sexual depravity as the child is called upon to dance for Herod.
Jamie Lloyd uses masturbation on stage as Herod furiously pleasures himself while watching Salome dance. Salome fingers herself when she talks about Iokanaan and then offers him her fingers to lick. This graphically dark production is not for the sexually squeamish or cowardly. There are few who would find this relentless explicitness erotic. In a post apocalyptic world, oil and brute force appear to be the source of the wealth of Herod and tyranny what keeps him in power.
Zawe Ashton is remarkable as Salome, the product of an upbringing in a debauched society, both corrupt and innocent at once. Given the head of Iokanaan, she cradles it as if it is a doll. Seun Shote covered in black oil and chained shouts his curses as a memorable battler against iniquity. He is without fear or doubt. Con O'Neill is gruff as Herod, the mass murderer of the innocents and Jaye Griffiths conveys much emotion beyond her white painted mask. Only the suicide of a soldier the Young Syrian (Sam Johnson) allows us to feel sympathy rather than shock.
This modern dress, salacious version of Salome tends to drown Wilde's verse but is bravely original.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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