Salomé, a new play by Yaël Farber opens at the National Theatre for a limited run.
In simple terms, this a re-telling of the story of John the Baptist, only this time ‘Salomé so called’ [an unknown entity in the historical telling] is the centrepiece and protagonist of the story. The description of the play itself precludes the style of the production itself – a needlessly intricate, complex and confusing way to tell what should be a simple story.
Olwen Fouéré takes on the role of ‘Nameless’, a depiction of the older, resolute Salomé looking back on her life and memories and commenting on them as they’re depicted – stepping into her own scenes at other times. This style of work does feel somewhat confusing and difficult to follow at times. While Fouéré is a tour de force in her deliverance, the script and language she’s forced to use loses all of it’s impact when it’s difficult to follow. Supposedly meant to be speaking in riddles and conjecture, often perceived as incomprehensible. This is carried out across the entirety of the production and casts an unfortunate light on otherwise great acting work.
Being set in the province of Judaea under Roman occupation can present logistical and linguistic challenges. The use of a different language to separate the ‘Roman sympathisers’ and followers of Bar Giora [Shahar Isaac] is at first intelligently done. Though, the use of projected subtitles to translate immediately causes a disconnect between audience and performer. No longer are you watching the movements of the actor; instead you spend it reading off of a wall. When performing something this complex, a disconnect with the audience creates a huge setback; one that is difficult to pull back.
There’s great credit for Susan Hilferty’s design work that’s in a simplistic form yet remains intricate – something that can only be described as stunning. Coupled together with Yaël Farber’s direction and Tim Lutkin’s lighting puts an impressive glow over the Olivier stage. Unfortunately, even with a multi-talented cast and stunning set design, this production fails to captivate us the way it tries so hard to do. It’s needlessly complex and requires a former knowledge of the bible to even make sense from the start. While the intentions are pure; wanting to cast a feminist light on the ‘unknown’ and lost history of Salomé so-called… it’s only achieved to the detriment of the audience.