Pros: It’s short.
Cons: Everything else.
The plot of Oscar Wilde’s Salome is fairly well known, which is unsurprising given that it’s literally biblical: a princess (from whom the play takes its name) demands that her stepfather, King Herod II, deliver her the head of John the Baptist on a silver platter as a reward for performing the Dance of the Seven Veils. It’s a classic, and rightly so. However, while I’ve seen some excellent work at the Barons Court Theatre, this absolutely does not count among it. For reasons detailed below, Stage Theatre Company’s miserable revival of Salome is without doubt the worst production of any play that I have ever seen (and, I sincerely hope, will ever see).
The opening of the show, like so much of what follows, is farcical. Two actors shuffle onto the stage, mumble some nonsensical garbage, then shuffle off again. The stage is left bare (for the last time), with the lights still up. Following an awkward silence, a prerecorded voice delivers some plot exposition while the audience eye each other awkwardly from each side of the theatre. Then, at last, there’s a lighting change, and enter… Salome? No, it’s just a partially-veiled woman who engages in a five-minute (not an exaggeration) unchoreographed dance routine, struggling to maintain the Colgate grin on her face as she gradually runs out of breath.
The tone had been set for the rest of the evening. What followed was one of the longer hours of my life – at one point, even the director, Nick Pelas, who’d planted himself in the front row, conspicuously checked his watch. Looking at the substantial cast list, I wondered how they would be manoeuvred around the tiny space. As it turns out, they weren’t; for the majority of the show, the stage is crowded by ten actors standing around like lemons and unconvincingly saying lines, often at the wrong time and usually over the top of each other. There are some other inept directorial choices, such as fully revealing the severed head of John the Baptist in spite of obvious budget constraints. ‘Is this the bitter taste of love, or blood?’ Salome whimpers, kissing it. ‘No; it’s polystyrene.’
However, this isn’t just an extremely poor revival of Salome, but to my mind an offensive one. There is something genuinely unpleasant about watching a group of scantily clad actresses – many of whom barely feature in the rest of the play – give King Herod (played here by Neil Weatherall who, if nothing else, can shout very loudly) a private striptease one after another. It was facile, sexist, and inadvertently sinister. It was also totally unnecessary. By the time it came for Salome (Franciska Steiner) to take the floor, I found myself mirroring the majority of the cast on the stage: grimacing at the floor and waiting for it all to be over. She dances (not very skilfully but it is undoubtedly dancing) for an eternity. Any attempts to convey the sensuality and eroticism of Wilde’s script succeed only in being seedy and demeaning. It feels like a tacky peep show in the basement of a pub – appropriate, perhaps, given the theatre’s location beneath the excellent Curtains Up.
By the end of this lesson in how not to stage a play, John the Baptist’s head isn’t the only thing that’s rolling; I’m sure Oscar Wilde is too, in his grave. I usually hate it when a cast applauds its audience during a curtain call, but, in this instance, I think we deserved it after sitting through this catastrophe.
Author: Oscar Wilde (adapted by Nick Pelas)
Director: Nick Pelas
Producer: Stage Theatre Company
Booking Until: 29 October 2017
Box Office: 020 8932 4747
Booking Information: Email firstname.lastname@example.org with details of performance and number of tickets required.