Aug 6 2023 | By More

★★★★☆     Uneven but compelling

Bedlam Theatre (Venue 49): Wed 2 – Sun 13 Aug 2023
Review by Hugh Simpson

Edinburgh University Theatre Company’s presentation of Oscar Wilde’s Salomé is wilfully uneven, not always carefully judged, yet ultimately extremely impressive.

Wilde’s 1891 one act drama, originally written in French, is stuffed full of poetry and symbolism. It was hugely controversial in its time, not least for the depiction of a Biblical story on stage – although the tale of King Herod’s obsession with his stepdaughter Salomé, and her request for the head of John the Baptist (Jokanaan in this version) is much expanded from the New Testament version.

A scene from the EUTC production of Salome. Pic Philomene Cheynet

There is considerable contemporary resonance to be found – the corruption of political power, the tyranny of the male (and sometimes the female) gaze, and the corrosive nature of revenge.

However, familiarity with the Bible and its attendant myths cannot be taken for granted as it was over a century ago, and to modern audiences much of the story can seem utterly bizarre.

Recent productions often seem at a loss as to how seriously to take much of it, and accordingly tend to play up the comic aspects. There is certainly humour in the script, but it does not need to have every drop wrung out of it. Many of the smaller roles are definitely played for laughs, and discharged with comic skill by Michael Johnson, Ray Finlayson, Peter Crighton and Kristjan Gudjonsson (the last named being the assistant director, understudying on this occasion).


There is a constant conflict between the flippant and more serious aspects of the production, crystallised in Lachlan Robertson’s Jokanaan and Angus Morrison’s Herod. Robertson has a poise and an otherworldly air that impress, but it is difficult to see why he should be so feared.

His wearing of a cross before the Crucifixion has even happened, however, would seem to mark him out as a genuine prophet. This is one of many odd choices by costume designer Nhi Tran; like so much else here, however, the good ultimately far outweighs the bad in this regard.

Morrison occasionally struggles to give Herod sufficient seriousness, but he does achieve moments which are truly frightening.

The cast of the EUTC production of Salome. Pic Philomene Cheynet

Despite the wildly (and deliberately) inconsistent tone, ultimately this has a genuine power. Director and set designer Philomene Cheynet has a formidable visual sense. Effective use is made of tableau-like scenes, with careful consideration given to placement and use of the characters. Towards the end, a due sense of doom is further enhanced by Nat Lamont’s eerily dim lighting and Nico Larivosecchi’s sound design.

This helps bring into sharp focus Clare Robinson’s Salomé as she treads a fine line between vulnerable victim and toxic avenger. Her dance (excellently choreographed by Amrit Gill) emphasises this paradoxical combination of powerlessness and steeliness.


Robinson’s tremendous performance is matched by the outstanding Arianna Branca as her mother Herodias. Where much of the production firmly eschews realism, she is completely believable. The same can be said for Michelle Michaels as her page, mourning the death of Finnian Smyth’s ill-fated and relatively understated Syrian captain.

At times it all threatens to break down completely as it veers between tragedy and something approaching farce, but the commitment of all on display keeps it on track. This is far from perfect, but its ambition must be applauded.

Running time: One hour (no interval)
Bedlam Theatre, 11b Bristo Place, EH1 1EZ (Venue 49)
Wednesday 2 – Sunday 13 August 2023
Daily at 3.30 pm
Tickets and details: Book here.

Company website:
Instagram: @salome.bedlamfringe

Clare Robinson as Salomé. Pic Philomene Cheynet


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