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Salomé, The Old Cholmeley Boys’ Club

Oscar Wilde
Directed by Anastasia Revi

Pros: The Old Cholmeley Boys’ Club – a dilapidated church like building on the outside, and a lavish looking dining hall on the inside – is perfectly suited to the luxurious circumstances and persistent ominous-ness of the piece. The costumes by Valentina Sanna are exquisite.

Cons: While the script itself definitely calls for heightened emotion, I found this to be over dramatised in many instances – a greater variety in delivery would have been welcome. The script could also have done with a good deal of editing.

Our Verdict: This is a very stylized production that will appeal to a niche audience. It is well presented with a strong aesthetic and high productions values.

Courtesy of Yiannis Katsaris for Theatre Lab

They say that ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’, and Oscar Wilde’s Salomé proves this ten-fold.

While at the birthday banquet of her step-father, Princess Salomé, among her other guests, overhears the haunting prophesies of John the Baptist and, upon demanding to be acquainted with the hermit-like Prophet, falls in love with him. When she is rejected by the Prophet, who strikes fear into the heart of her step-father King Herod and causes great offence to her mother Queen Herodias, she curses and spurns him immediately. For extra context, Salomé’s mother actually married her husband’s brother (King Herod), which John the Baptist does not look upon kindly in his outbursts.

Meanwhile, as the object of many a lustful eye, Salomé agrees to perform a dance for her incestuous step-father in exchange for anything she asks for. Little does he know, the only thing that she will except as a reward is the head of her beloved Prophet on a silver platter – quite literally.

As soon as you step foot into The Old Cholmeley Boys’ Club, you are plunged into the heart of the production. Coming in from the cold through the door of an eerie, otherwise non-descript building, one enters a world of luxury and indulgence: a dimly lit dining room, a crackling open fire roaring in the background, velour couches for the audience placed around the set, a banquet table full of food, a piano and plenty of well-placed objets d’arts. This is a well-endowed universe where people are used to getting their way. The stage is well set and the stunning costumes designed by Valentina Sanna beautifully augment the lavish and over-indulgent atmosphere.

While the production was well-crafted and admirably played with appropriate passion and zeal, I did find the character portrayals forcibly dramatic in places. I felt that more exploration of the ways of presenting the text in a non-melodramatic style was needed; it all just became a little overwrought in places.

The symbolic staging that carefully echoes the symbolism in the language of the script did add an extra layer of intrigue and interest, but I didn’t personally feel that it added anything in terms of deepening my understanding of the characters or the play. Although stunning therefore, I felt that the staging of the piece seemed more aesthetic than meaningful. Slightly disappointing was the use of projections. I’m sure they added a fascinating component to the show and its symbolism, but sadly they were hardly visible against the already decorated back wall and were often obscured by the shadows of actors.

The live musical accompaniment (piano, flute and voice by Annabelle Brown) that was at once the wind, the sound of devastation and the life of the party was a welcome underlying element to an otherwise plodding production that could have used a dose of red pen. With a little bit of editing, I feel that the script could have been tighter, sharper and delivered with a greater sense of heightened tension.

This is an ambitious production that uses the innovative space well but which perhaps gets too bogged down in remaining true to the art of the script. In places therefore, it becomes slightly gimmicky and overly niche. That being said, while the style of the show was perhaps not to my taste, I would recommend it as a strong piece of experimental theatre with some beautiful visuals in terms of the costumes and the set.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Salomé runs at Old Cholmeley Boys’ Club until 16th December 2012.
To book, call 07958 404806 or email anastasia@theatrelab.co.uk.

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