Director Owen Horsley’s reimagined production of Salomé is wild, clever and groundbreaking. In commemoration of 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality, the poetic performance is focused on sexuality and gender – as Salomé is cast as a man, creating immense sexual ambiguity.
The story of unrequited lust amplifies intrigue because of the lack of distinct sexuality. The gender fluidity of the piece is remarkable and adds an innovative perspective on such a well-known production. Identified as Oscar Wilde’s most provocative play, it is written in verse form with lyrical language which creates a powerful piece of theatre.
Salomé is the story of a virgin princess who falls in love with Iokanaan despite him not loving her at all, which causes Salomé to lose her mind because of her overwhelming desire. Salomé’s beautiful image fatally captures the looks of men and they are warned if they look too long they will die. When Iokanaan refuses her, Salomé complete infatuation spirals into her ordering Iokanaan’s head on a Silver platter.
Matthew Tennyson is impeccable in the role of Salomé, he is fragile, delicate and slightly awkward, heightening his vulnerability. Walking around the stage in a silver slip dress and high heels, his feminine and masculine qualities create an approach to the role that gives a well-rounded view of Salomé and her insecurities.
Salomé’s desire for Iokanaan is impassioned, as Gavin Fowler emerges in the role of Iokanaan with command and might, the delivery of his monologue is completely captivating. He intensifies his anger yet softens when he speaks his thoughts, and whilst he appears strong there is a weakness that unfolds when he meets Salomé. The chemistry between them is intriguing yet compelling, as it creates a force of sexual tension that powers over the entire production.
Herodias, the wife of Tetrarch and mother of Salomé is played by Suzanne Burden who gives a formidable performance. Her assertive tone and witty remarks are frank and honest – the straightforward nature of her delivery contrasts well against the metrical dialogue. Matthew Pidgeon’s misogynistic and incestuous character of Herod, the Tetrarch of Judea is slimy and sickening. His wide-eyed gaze and manipulative approach make him harrowing to watch.
Elevating the production with vibrant music, is Ilan Evans who sings a score created by American artist Perfume Genius. Chosen carefully by director Owen Horsely, Perfume Genius (whose real name is Hadreas) has a story that mirrors Salomé’s inner character. First emerging as an artist who wrote damaging lyrics and sombre ballads, he then made a comeback to the music scene a few years later with the powerful, confrontational single Queen. This reflects Terryson’s depiction of Salomé as he portrays his tenuous side, yet when he feels passionate about something, his demand and strength are empowering.
Horsley has orchestrated an engaging production that explores the story of Salomé and the themes of sexual desire in a new, contemporary and innovative light that breaks essential boundaries – something we need more of on stage.
Salomé runs until the 6th of September at the RSC’s Swan Theatre, tickets and information can be found here.