14th June 2017
Writing: Finlay Carroll (Year 12)
Photography: Johan Persson, National Theatre
Editing: Soorya Thavaraj (Year 12)
In our penultimate visit of the Culture Club year, the group went to see a production of Salomé, currently playing at the National Theatre. This new interpretation of the obscure biblical story (realised by South African writer-director Yaël Farber), presented us with the image of a deeply divided Judea; split between the oppressed Jews and the Romans occupying the city. Salomé, stepdaughter of King Herod, demands the head of John the Baptist, therefore making him a martyr to the Jews and sparking a revolution across the city.
The production was often visually impressive. Much of the credit for this goes to Susan Hilferty’s design, which utilised most of the remarkable technical capabilities of the National’s Olivier stage. This include but was definitely not limited to flying lighting bars, a complex stage revolve, the ability to drop various items from the rafters (sand, water, feathers, ash and more), several trap doors and (of course) a hydraulic lift system. What more could you want? A particularly striking choice was to give the actors a large gauze sheet to wave theatrically around throughout the production. This was reminiscent of everything from the swirling sands of the desert, to dust sheets trapping key events in history, to the suffocating nature of sexual abuse. Salomé shone most during these overwhelming, sensational moments, when the ensemble moved together and as the music composed by Adam Cork (composer of National Theatre verbatim success story 'London Road') built to a crescendo.
I have mixed feelings about Farber’s feminist reimagining of the tale. Most characters lacked nuance and seemed to be more representative of ideas than of people, the exception to this perhaps being Syrian actor Ramzi Choukair who shone in a full-on performance as John the Baptist. The revolve function of the stage was used relentlessly and thus made it difficult to know where to look and what to think. This leads me to think that the production may have been more impressive placed on a smaller stage, perhaps with less technical capabilities. The exceptional and piercing live voices of Yasmin Levy and Lubana al Quntar saved the production, by increasing the stakes of even the most stale and simple of scenes.
Overall, we all enjoyed the opportunity to see a play that was different to what everyone had expected and to spend a beautiful evening amongst the vibrancy of the South Bank. The production was certainly aesthetically amazing so maybe it is due to the success of Farber’s last National Theatre production, Les Blancs, that Salomé didn’t quite hit the mark. Thanks must go to Miss Ashton for working so hard to organise all our trips, and to all the teachers who accompanied us on the evening!