Festival review: Salome; theSpace on the Mile

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SALOME’S chilling words “Ah! Thou wouldst not suffer me to kiss thy mouth, Iokanaan. Well! I will kiss it now...” uttered to the prophet’s bloodied, severed head, moments before she does just that, still resonates with horror even in the 21st century.

Oscar Wilde’s biblical tragedy was written in French in 1891 and banned in England the following year.

It eventually debuted in Paris in 1896, while Wilde was in prison. But it didn’t show on this side of the Channel until 1936, when the ban was lifted.

It tells in one act the story of tetrarch Herod’s stepdaughter, Salome.

The young Princess has become obsessed with Iokanaan (John the Baptist). Herod, in turn, lusts for Salome and begs her to perform the sensual Dance Of The Seven Veils for him.

She only agrees after he promises to give her whatever she wants (“even unto the half of my kingdom”). But what she craves is Iokanaan’s head on a plate.

Fearful of the prophet who might bring down the wrath of his God, Herod is reluctant to fulfil the horrifying request, but is bound by his oath and the witness of the people present.

This student adaptation of Wilde’s classic play, by Durham-based Kronos Stage, is a skilful production that flows from start to finish, just as it should. Felix Stevenson’s decidedly camp Herod is by turns lecherous and menacingly playful as he indulges in childish tantrums, while Grace Cheatle, as Salome, exudes sensuality.

Charlie Warner, as Iokanaan, captures the audience’s attention well with his brooding looks, and Cecily Money-Coutts convinces as Herod’s wife, Herodius, who attempts to halt her husband’s growing obsession with Salome.

Special mention must be made of Iokanaan’s uncannily lifelike fake severed head, which makes its entrance towards the end as Salome holds her bloody prize.

Rating: * * * *

• Until August 18