Yaël Farber’s Salomé claims to be about many ideas, colonization, occupation and the role of women in society, a far step from Oscar Wilde’s better known adaptation. While removing the misogynistic overtones greatly benefits the production allowing more free reign for the story, it often falls flat when delivering it.
The play opens slowly, coming at a snail’s pace before any lines are spoken. When the lines do finally appear I found myself baffled as to the opening of the tale, with no in depth knowledge of the story beforehand, you may find yourself struggling to catch on to the first fifteen minutes of the play. Eventually it became clear that the role of ‘Salomé’ had been split in two, one young, one old, with the older rendition named ‘Nameless’ acting as the narrator to the younger, this acts as the story’s structure going forward.
The initial confusion aside the play then become a revolving door of scenes, quite literally in this case, as parts of the stage are stuck in a near constant revolution as characters step on and off of scenes. This leads to a number of rapid fire scenes setting up various characters’ roles in the story, from which we see the productions real failings – its dialogue. In a production designed to carry a great deal of weight behind it I often found myself having to stifle back laughter, most prevalently anytime Herod spoke. Herod is clearly designed to come across as a menacing sexual predator, though both in dialogue and Paul Chahidi’s performance I felt as though he might burst out in a maniacal pantomime laugh at any time, or that the audience might be required to yell ‘He’s behind you!’
The rest of the cast bear equally well, the elder ‘Nameless’ Salomé played by Olwen Fouéré spends much of her time uttering mismatched dialogue, while her younger self played by Isabella Nefar greatly benefits from having as little dialogue as possible, allowing her believable performance of a immensely mistreated women to shine through. Lloyd Hutchinson performs well as Pilate offering a powerful performance only let down by weak dialogue, despite this his scenes are few and far between, often jumping between the play’s two timelines. Of all the cast it is Ramzi Choukair’s Iokanaan (John the Baptist) who stands out the most, as a wandering preacher trying to save his people. Despite not speaking a word of English throughout the play, he consistently draws the audience’s attention as he is beaten, stripped and dragged around the stage. Ramzi comes off as a desperate man in a desperate time, struggling against all odds to bring change for his people, ultimately acknowledging what needs to be done, regardless of the consequences. The play sets up Salome as the soul hero of the piece, yet truly both deserve the credit, as it is the scene shared by Ramzi and Isabella that is the highlight of the entire production.
Besides the aforementioned revolving stage Yaël Farber brings in a number of other visual symbols and set pieces throughout. Beginning with a recreation of ‘The Last Supper’ painting using each of the character’s involved in the piece, a ladder to symbolise John and in turn Salomé’s rise (in the biblical sense), along with cascading sand as ideals and principles begin to fall. The timing on these devices however often causes them not to stick, or offer too much distraction from the scenes underway.
Salomé claims to make the titular character the ‘Mother of the revolution, the true insurrectionist’ and at times it almost lives up to this promise, though these moments are often bogged down in shaky dialogue and unintentionally comedic elements. Though look past Salomé’s doubtful outlook and it offers a play which brings in a refreshing, often compelling look at an old forgotten story, bringing in a retelling more worthy of our time.