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Published 25 June 2010

Mad Max meets Batman in Headlong’s dark, punchy, no-holds-barred production of Oscar Wilde’s Salome.

Grey gravel covers the square stage of Hampstead theatre, in one corner dissolving into swampy mulch. Scaffolding surrounds it, while in its centre sits a round manhole, ominously hiding its secrets. Men in customised army fatigues prowl in the darkness like creatures from another world.

This is the start of Jamie Lloyd’s interpretation of Wilde’s biblical tragedy, in which Salome, step-daughter of Herod, demands the head of Iokanaan – John the Baptist – in return for dancing the dance of the seven veils.

It is a heightened, intense, almost caricatured depiction of the biblical story. Zawe Ashton’s Salome quivers with desire and sexuality as the vain, capricious virgin who enjoys spurning men but becomes obsessed with the imprisoned prophet. Con O’Neill brings his usual intense physicality to the role of Herod, portraying the Tetrarch as half-deranged, almost like a comic-strip villain; he spits and rages around the stage, at times crazed, at others funny, and always consumed by his incestuous desire for his step-daughter.

It is this desire that propels him to demand Salome to dance. Designer Soutra Gilmour creates a bold, unusual vision for the dance of the seven veils, putting the princess in a transparent, skin-tight dress, fuchsia pink underwear and wig. Standing on the manhole that covers Iokanaan’s prison, she writhes about to music playing from a graffiti-painted ghetto blaster. 

Her decision, after the dance, to request the head of Iokanaan, who previously spurned her advances, comes from spiteful childishness. But she is goaded by her mother Herodias, who Jaye Griffiths plays as half-drunk, taking a sickening delight in her daughter’s request and jeering at her husband’s obvious distress.

Director Lloyd hides nothing in his depiction of the shocking conclusion, as Salome greedily clutches her prize. Hell hath no fury…



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