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Review by Lucy Martin.
Salome, or rather “the nameless girl,” is a character that we all, to some extent, know of. Over the centuries, artists and academics alike have idolised her as an enemy to Christianity and the ultimate seductress. Director Yaël Farber, however, surpasses the male gaze in her recent production of Salome to reveal the truth about Salome, or the girl that she calls “Nameless.”
Farber’s staging is impeccable and ominous. Whether it’s the falling sand or the revolving centre floor the stage is unsettled, much like the setting of the colonised Jerusalem. That is until the terrorised protagonist meets John the Baptist, her supposed “victim.” It is this moment, when Salome climbs down a lowered staircase, that Farber’s dynamic use of the stage comes into play. The play unfolds with flowing, wave-like sheets being swept across the stage by two priestesses, whose traditional and emotional Hebrew tones seem to be an exterior outlet for Salome’s lack of speech. The general aesthetic of the performance is an engaging reflection of the many artistic impressions of the age-old story, which at times entrap Faber’s own retelling.
The Biblical retelling is hauntingly narrated by Olwen Fouéré, who plays Salome in the later years of her life, reflecting on her youth. Fouéré’s interpretation of the character is full of integrity and understanding of the directors’ interpretation of the title character; which perceives Salome as a revolutionary rather than simply a selfish woman. In the role of “so-called Salome,” is Isabella Nefar, whose startling lack of speech only confirms her incredible stage presence, which is sustained throughout the majority of the two-hour play. In the play’s backdrop of misogyny and greed, King Herod takes the forefront. Played mercilessly by Paul Chahidi, Herod’s continuous harassment and molesting of his daughter Salome is grossly chilling.
In the play’s introduction, the cast and Farber spoke about what they believed that the production represented. Many spoke about colonisation, feeling that underneath the narrative is a confrontation of current issues. Through the male dominance and occupation of the stage, land and Salome herself, the play clearly opposed sexist male aggressions, which are still alive so long after the events of the play. However, the performance lacked a sense of clarity in its depiction of colonisation and occupation through its lengthy focus on figures of authority. This continual focus on varying, minor male characters drags the performance at times, due to the arguably clunky dialogue exchanged.
Despite this, Salome delivers an intense and dignified rendition of the plight of the “nameless girl.” Farber’s innovative staging and thoughtful interpretation display both her directorial integrity and a contemporary message. Through her choice of an ancient and traditional narrative to explore contemporary issues, is Farber possibly probing the audience to question how much has society truly changed over the past two millennia?