The domain of King Herod is a dark, oily mess of gritty sludge in Jamie Lloyd’s contemporary production (for Headlong) of Oscar Wilde’s one act biblical tragedy. It’s not at all what one would expect from the pen of the aesthete who crammed The Importance of Being Earnest with witty words and social niceties.

Zawe Ashton’s Salome is a spoilt princess – a self-professed virgin who seems more knowing than any lady of the night and inspires lust in the soldiers who watch her preening in her unzipped to the waist combats. Only the prophet Iokanaan, shackled in a subterranean cistern, wants nothing to do with her. And he’s the one she wants to kiss.

Designer (Soutra Gilmour) and director certainly create an atmosphere of sleazy debauchery, but Iokanaan’s words are so distorted whilst he’s underground that it’s impossible to make them out. In contrast, the desires of Con O’Neill’s masturbating Herod are all too clear. No wonder his wife Herodias (Jaye Griffiths) is none too pleased over his fascination with her provocative daughter – until, that is, Salome reveals the prize she wants in return for her dance. 

There isn’t a veil in sight – this Salome grabs her ghetto-blaster and changes into a pink wig, chunky boots and clinging see-through dress to gyrate before her step-father.

Yet dark though it is, the production is so much on a sustained in-yer-face note that one barely flinches when, her wish granted, Salome lasciviously caresses the gory, severed head of the man who spurned her.

3/5

Hampstead, Eton Avenue, NW3 3EU
020 7722 9301
Swiss Cottage
hampsteadtheatre.com
until 17th July (£15-£25)

Review: Louise Kingsley