USER (12Oct06): In a week when the North Koreans exploded their first nuclear bomb, never was there a more timely depiction of the desire for power than in the Nuffield Theatre’s production of Salome.
Robin Don’s colossus of a set places the rarely performed play in a desert munitions factory, in which the casual littering of bombs renders North Korea’s display even more pertinent.
Power is the key to this play and Patrick Sandford’s brilliant direction draws out every thematic strand comprehensively, making a difficult play starkly comprehensible. Herod, magnificently played by Tim Woodward is all powerful in Judea, but even he fears the spiritual power of Jokanaan, locked in his cells below whilst being mindful of the political power of Caesar in Rome. Salome herself is both innocent and yet the ultimate manipulator. Katie McGuinness combines these attributes superbly, demonstrating how power can corrupt absolutely. Military power is literally expressed in this modern day desert setting, but Wilde insists we consider the ultimate power of religious martyrdom in his John the Baptist character Jokanaan, played by Jotham Annan. His delicate sweat-covered body captivates Salome; lighting designer David W Kidd provides an exquisite halo moment as they almost kiss. But Salome is denied.
A woman scorned never had more fury than Salome. Despite being offered a half of Herod’s kingdom in exchange for her seductive dance of the seven veils, she insists upon Jokanaan’s head on a platter, which she ultimately kisses to Herod’s horror. Jane Maud’s Herodias, wife of Herod and mother of Salome, is strong and confident. When Herod declares that they are like mother and daughter, the power shifts from him to them; at least until Herod finally takes back control militarily. Wilde’s message is clear: women use emotions and the mind to take power over men, whilst men use military might and force to take control over everybody.
Nevertheless, while military power may crush and strike fear into its enemies, as North Korea and Herod may believe, the hearts and minds of the People are won by a higher power. Years after the death of John the Baptist this was proven with the rise of the new religion: Christianity, and the fall of Herod and Rome. It remains to be seen what will happen in North Korea.