Steven Berkoff, Salome

Review in Issue 5-3 | Autumn 1993

It’s usually hard to sit for two hours without an interval. It didn’t help having the theatre’s heating system belching out hot air. I first looked at my watch with only half-an-hour to go, purely because a desire for water was setting in. Thank goodness for the oasis supplied by Berkoff and his Company.

This Salome is a dream-like mixture of Wilde and Berkoff. White-faced, in Victorian attire, the cast move slowly around the stage like the slugs they portray: all grovelling guests at Herod’s dinner for Caesar. The characters then proceed to speak to each other and move in various styles before one is murdered for lusting after Salome. Then Herod arrives and the whole thing picks up. Mainly, it has to be noticed, because of Berkoff himself. He plays Herod unpredictably; speaking his lines as though he were on a rollercoaster. Strangely, though, this works beautifully in creating a Herod that is a spoilt child. It is all a game for him. He wants Salome to dance and she does so. Salome, temptingly played by Zigi Ellison, decides her payment should be the head of Jokanaan because he wouldn’t kiss her. Jokanaan is Herod’s treasured prize – held captive in a small cell below. Herod now has a tantrum and looks forced to break his word. Tension abounds. Will he break or keep his promise for her dancing?

Stunningly directed and choreographed, this production began life at the Royal National Theatre and now re-emerges in strength ready for its tour. The powerful performances create a show that is, in retrospect, exceedingly hypnotic. What it lacks though is pace. Some moments drag their heels.

Yet, there is still a lot to be learned from Steven Berkoff about taking risks with theatre and ensemble playing. He pushes it into seldom used or unknown territories. As much as I liked Salome (some of the audience didn’t) it was a great relief to leave the auditorium and breathe fresh air, poached as I was.

Presenting Artists
Presenting Festival
Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. May 1993

This article in the magazine

Issue 5-3
p. 16