RSC Swan Theatre
AN ASSAULT on the senses breaks across the Swan stage in Owen Horsley’s unashamedly in-your-face staging of Oscar Wilde’s dense telling of the tale of Salome.
Music, dance, songs, gore – they’re all here in a full-on visual attack which could so easily descend into some sort of demented Eurovision but which actually manages to work on all of its many levels.
At only 90 minutes, this production manages to pack a huge amount of sensual richness into a comparatively short time.
Opening with a rock song and introducing characters who never walk but slink; never stand but pose, it’s a one-act blast of the erotic and the truly unhinged.
The production’s drive relies on three very good central performances. Matthew Tennyson meets the challenge of a male actor taking the title role without too much overt agenda-setting. This Salome is not without feelings but comes across more as a virginal blank canvas on which others can paint their desires. The movement is sensual, with the odd tinge of gauche, and there’s a sense of androgyny which fits the tenor of the whole production.
Suzanne Burden is about as masculine as a woman of power can be as Herodias. Set square and with a short, punchy delivery she is the perfect balance to Matthew Pidgeon’s excellent Herod. This is a man of power who can’t quite rule without the moral support of a fairly shallow bunch of sycophantic supporters. He’ll have his way on any matter, having first checked with his mates, but flounders spectacularly when confronted with the unshakable Salome determined to make him deliver on his oath. This is a performance full of nuances and wit, an excellent handling of Wilde’s heavy, poetic words.
A fourth noteworthy performance comes from the supporting company itself. The ensemble’s movement – under Polly Bennett – is fluid and always eye-catching. Every moment of the staging is well choreographed and arranged within the levels offered by Bretta Gerecke’s simple but versatile set.
The dance sequence which leads to Salome’s fatal grip over the king is a fine set piece of its own. The nudity doesn’t perhaps shout its necessity but it certainly doesn’t jar either and if the point is to lay bare the innocence beneath the eroticism, then it works.
Credit must go to Laura Bangay and Perfume Genius for a soundtrack which drives the production along. Not everyone is a fan of lengthy underscoring. It can destroy the rhythm of the poetry is seeks to support. Not so here as many of Wilde’s lengthier speeches are given a fresh tension and poignancy.
Brilliantly delivered, full of rich sights and sounds this Salome packs a fabulous punch which will stay with the viewer for some time.
Salome runs until September 6. Visit www.rsc.org.uk for tickets and further details.