"The overall fluidity of the drama paralleled Salome’s sensuality and enticed the audience for more"Johannes Hjorth

Walking into Salome, I had zero expectations. Oscar Wilde’s telling of Salome and John the Baptist (Iokannan) has been a theatrical staple, but its interpretations have varied greatly. Oscar Wilde himself left very loose stage direction regarding the pinnacle of the play – the dance of the seven veils. Director Tom Stell’s extensive background in Beijing Opera has made his interpretation doubly as mysterious and elusive. Together, all of these elements have made the classic biblical story a dream for any director, yet I was left feeling that the play had much more to give.

“Director Tom Stell’s extensive background in Beijing Opera has made his interpretation doubly as mysterious and elusive”

The darkness of Salome’s world was beautifully presented in the opening scene, as two soldiers walked onto the stage to alluring music – the room was instantly enchanted by darkness and the unknown. The director’s attention to detail gave the play another elegant layer which bound it together. The motions of the actors were clearly dictated yet presented in a most natural way, almost as if the movement was borne from momentary inspiration. The transfer of such movements throughout the characters almost gives the play a life of its own, dancing from the solders, to Iokannan, and eventually to Salome herself. 

Salome presents a dazzling array of colours demanding the undivided attention of the audienceJohannes Hjorth

Similarly, the speech of the actors occasionally took on a sonorous quality which had me second guessing whether they had been singing all along. The spontaneity of such moments elevated the already poetic and ethereal script, allowing the richness of the text to come through with melodious execution. The overall fluidity of the drama paralleled Salome’s sensuality and enticed the audience for more. 

Aside from the speech and movement, Salome presented a dazzling visual array of colours: blue, red, silver, gold. Bright colours dominated the stage, and a clever use of a minimalist black set accentuated the exoticism and brilliance of these –  the actors’ slow motion across the stage highlighted their colours, bringing focus to the action at hand. The audience’s eyes are drawn to the characters, followed closely by their eyes and undivided attention. 

"The darkness of Salome’s world was beautifully presented"Johannes Hjorth

Though the play was set up beautifully, it dismantled itself. With Herod’s entrance came catastrophe, both in the plot and in the quality of the play. Herod’s character crash landed onto the stage to blaring techno dance music, the likes of which can often be found in establishments such as Cindies. If the atmosphere so carefully curated in the opening hadn't instantaneously disappeared, it was not going to last long under such a barrage. His delivery of the lines was also not in the same style as the other actors, creating a jarring divide. The controlled yet natural movements, the song-like speech, everything that made the play interesting was absent from Herod’s performance. His harsh delivery alienated the audience, while removing any sense of mysticism so carefully crafted. 

Salome’s dance – the zenith of the play – left something to be desired. It began with teasingly slow movements dripping with dangerous femininity, but turned into a bad action scene half way through. Her exotic and sensual dance music was replaced Hollywood action film score and martial arts kicks that did not agree at all with the tone of the play. Her sudden burst of action left the audience confused and looking at each other for answers. 

The pacing of this production did not aid its presentation. Important scenes that displayed Salome’s power as a seductress were not given enough weight, and Herod’s uninteresting speeches were given too much. Iokannan’s drawn out rejection of Salome left me wondering if he had meant to reject her at all. These details diminished the effectiveness of the performance. Overall, the great things about the play were overpowered by the not-so-great things, but due to its undeniable eccentricity, it’s definitely worth a watch