This may be a one act play about how sexy Salome danced before her stepfather and demanded the head of John The Baptist. But we found, after we took our seat at The Swan in Stratford on Avon, that slowly our eye and ear strayed to the outstanding supporting cast that definitely keeps this good looking but overwrought production from whirring into outer space.
Matthew Pidgeon proves a solid choice as Herod who demands that Salome perform the dance of the 7 veils as he lusts after her. He changes, quickly, from preening tyrant, to laddish bully, to a man simply shocked that a young girl could so bloodcurdingly call for the murder of a strange prophet.
Suzanne Burden is equally compelling as his harsh-voiced agnostic queen who gets a cynical glee out of beheading the imprisoned religious seer. She is callous, godless, plausibly and drunkenly modern as she gets that Judean wine down her neck and gives this Oscar Wilde script a real kick up the trousers.
Director Owen Horsley goes for a young male actor, Matthew Tennyson, to create the gamine Salome who falls for hunky John in his cell. Tennyson is an androgynous elfin ingénue who dances his/her heart out and, when spurned by John the Baptist, makes step-dad Herod kill the man she desires.
This Royal Shakespeare Company production is, at times, arch, flamboyant and ultimately saved by Wildean lyricism. But is the gender-swopping really necessary to emphasise the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in England?
We found this 90 minute production of Salome confounding but ultimately intriguing. If nothing else, there is glorious set design by Bretta Gerecke and music by Perfume Genius (aka pop phenom Mike Hadreas) that wraps this play within an edgy original score. Salome plays until Sept 6th. Tickets at rsc.org.uk
* Richard Lutz takes a break from reviewing for us and re-appears refreshed after the summer
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