first night

Salome

Kate Wilkinson is drawn into the dark world of 'Salome'.

After a run at the Edinburgh Fringe, Kronos Productions are back in Durham to seduce audiences with Wilde’s tragic play. A story of lust, deceit and murder, Salome follows the desires of the infamous femme fatale until their gruesome conclusion.

 
Even before the action began, I felt immediately drawn into a mysterious and vaguely sinister world due to the clever staging. The audience, rather than occupying the extensive Assembly Rooms seating, is offered just a few rows of seats which are raised to the level of the stage and there are even cushions encroaching on the performance space where the audience can sit just a meter or so from the nearest actor. This, combined with a backdrop of overhanging canvas, creates an intimate and claustrophobic atmosphere. I particularly enjoyed the aesthetics of the play; we are presented with a world of dim, warm-coloured light, shadows, incense and shiny, oiled limbs. These exotic elements transported me from a drizzly Durham evening into the bewitching world of Salome, a world of omens, oaths and superstitions.
 
For me, however, the choice to update the play to a modern Middle-Eastern warzone seemed questionable. The distinct biblical flavour of the script, including allusions to Emperor Caesar and the ancient realm of Sodom, seemed to contrast with the combat trousers and guns. Nevertheless, the costumes were sufficiently neutral not to distract from the superb performances.
 
It is indeed a strong cast and each member manages to bring alive the image-saturated script extremely well. Grace Cheatle is a powerful Salome; her captivating, feline eyes and delicate frame give her a sense of being both manipulative and vulnerable, and her performance was controlled, avoiding melodrama. The close proximity to her audience suited Cheatle perfectly as she was able to speak with an eerie quietness. Charles Warner’s performance as Iokanaan (St John the Baptist) has all the conviction of a believable prophet and Cecily Money-Coutts excels as the bitter Herodias.  However, it was Felix Stevenson whose performance particularly struck me. Stevenson’s Herod has an almost comic pomposity while maintaining enough arrogance and predatory lustiness to make the audience feel truly queasy. The tense, perverse relationship between Herod and Salome mirrors that of Salome and Iokanaan. In both cases, gender politics feature and sexual tension runs high. Interestingly, even as a murderess, Cheatle’s Salome never seems to shake off the image of a victim and the audience cannot help but be incensed by Iokanaan’s condemning line ‘by woman came evil into this world’ as well as Herod’s frequent references to Salome as ‘monstrous’. I may be reading too much into it, but for me, positioning the male and female characters for the most part on opposite sides of the stage emphasised gender distinctions. This interesting direction accrues to a thought-provoking play and we are forced to question conventional morality in a world where religious authority is pitted against female autonomy.
 
Sitting in the Assembly Rooms, watching the play unfold before me, I found myself thinking: what is missing? All the elements for a great production were present: a strong cast, beautiful production and a tense atmosphere. Clearly Salome provoked thought, but where was the emotional reaction? I felt that the moments of climax, such as the murders and famous dance of the seven veils, could have been made more of in order to create a greater shock factor.
 
Despite these few misgivings, Kronos Productions’ Salome is a well-oiled show in more ways than one. Each scene flows seamlessly from one to the other and I felt engaged throughout. I highly recommend going to see this show. As my first experience of Durham’s student theatre, Kronos’ Salome has setthe bar high.
 
Kate Wilkinson

26 October 2012

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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