I researched the story of Salomé before entering the theatre, because I was aware it was a story from the Bible, and I figured it would help me follow the story better. It still did not prepare me for the spectacle that was Salomé, written and directed by Yaël Farber. Before the show, we had attended a talk with her, and could get a better understanding of the show and the themes that we would be seeing that night. It allowed us as an audience to get insight to what the director was intending before we saw it. While this would end up influencing how we saw the show, I personally enjoyed being able to know the small nuances to look for during the show.
Even with the knowledge of the director’s intentions, it was very easy to get drawn into the show. Music was extremely important; the entire show was mostly accompanied by two women who were singing in the background. Originally, I believed that the singing was intended to be the “unspoken” voice of Salomé, but it was hard to tell by the end. It still added a very effective atmosphere and set the mood for different scenes for the audience. Sand was also a commonly used prop, even being dropped from above the stage towards the beginning. The set itself was also very obviously thought out. The surrounding set pieces were very simple, but the rotation stage was very effective in the show.
Often rotation stages are difficult to use because they can be extremely distracting. When the audience is focusing on what the stage is doing, it is easy to lose what characters are doing in a scene. However, the rotation stage in Salomé is expertly used. It moved quite slow, and characters often moved slowly at the same time. This allowed the audience to keep track of the scene, and allowed the actors to show off their amazing control. They would move very smoothly and with purpose, despite the difficulty of doing so in slow motion. It made it more impressive when actors began lifting or doing more strenuous tasks, such as lifting the ladder holding Salomé towards the end of the show.
There were scenes that words could not describe for me personally. Farber made spectacular decisions when it came to how the actors portrayed different parts of the story. The scene where Salomé finally begins speaking effectively told me how she was making a powerful decision and essentially finding her own voice. I think the decision to not have her speak until this moment allowed the audience to understand how she truly had no agency, as Farber said in the pre-show talk.
I believed that this show did extremely well in expressing what the director intended, and that it left the audience feeling something new by the end, even if they were not sure what it was.
Yaël Farber has created something stunningly beautiful at the National theatre. Her production of Salome is filled to the absolute brim with a spectacle that can only be properly executed by the pinnacle of modern theatrical technology. The production tells two stories simultaneously that are in some manner conflicting. The original text that lays embedded in this productions script has been told the same way for generations. From what I have read, it’s a story about a seductress who has Herod under her thumb, and can bend his will at her pleasure. That is how the story has been told previously. However, now Yaël Farber has turned this on its head and made Salome a symbol of the sorrow and discrimination of the women of the world. Salome is imprisoned, raped, abused, and wants nothing more than her own death. She is far gone from the stereotypical seductress we have known her to be.
However, I would dare say that the production we saw at the national theatre holds both of these stories within it. It seems that the production tells both of these stories by telling one story through the text, and the other through the staging and physical story telling inherent in the technical elements. I understand from our talks prior to the performance that the purpose of the production was to reclaim this legend and to make an icon for the feminist agenda. Farber had every intention of making us weep for Salome. Further she had every intention of destroying the old version of the legend so that it is told in a way that she finds more suitable. In some respect, she does accomplish this, but in others she does not. From the outset, we are set against her enemies and shown the depth of her suffering. Scene after scene is dedicated to watching Salome suffer through this life of torment as her nation is conquered by the romans. However, I maintain that the original story lives on in this production because the crux of the story is still a moment where Salome uses her sexual appeal to manipulate others and bring about the death of John the Baptist. I would dare say that if I were to read the script of this production of Salome absent of any stage directions, I might have not understood her motivation.
All the truly horrible parts of her torment were displayed in physical ways on the stage. They are the tools with which the play most enthralls the audience into feeling sorrow for the plight of Salome. One of the most potent examples was when Salome is raped. There is piece of cloth that slips over her face throughout the action. This makes her identity ambiguous and it shows her expressions of pain and violation in an exaggerated and horrifying manner. She is thrown hard onto the ground time and again. She falls either into a circle, or a circular path surrounding the space. Both of which revolve slowly in an endless circle giving us feelings of ongoing and repetitive actions. Cycles of anger and pain. Cycles of day and night filled with the same constant level of tension and anger. It’s an endless hell that Salome lives in and even the coldest of hearts is driven to feel anguish for her.
However, it is not only her torment but also her triumph which is displayed physically. When Salome rises above the pettiness, violence, and hatred of the men in her life we see her literally climbing a ladder into the darkness which is supported by their strength. Upon the moment that she asks for the head of John the Baptist she is holding massive curtains in her hands which ripple in such glorious fashion that they seem to shake the foundations of the world. These things are representative of the earth shattering effects behind her actions, but untimely the story is tied to the ball and chain of the script.
Despite the magnificent use of this physical storytelling, the tale ultimately relies upon Salome using her sexual appeal to leverage her political agency. Without it, she has nothing in terms of power or freedom. She is a slave in royal clothing and she is well aware of this. Never the less, the death of john the Baptist sets in motion a series of events that would bring about Christianity as the main religion of Rome, and will change the course of the world forever. This one action of hers is extremely complex because she does this through an action that while not promiscuous, is sexual and while not frivolous, is malicious. She wants revenge for what has been done to her, her city and her people, but she only gains it through appealing to the authority of a man. While she influences a man in a moment of weakness she never gains any lasting power. It would have been entirely possible for her request to be denied, and for John to have been saved despite her best efforts. The only reason she succeeded, was because of the weakness of Herod. Therefore, thought the motivations of Salome are well changed from the original version of the script, it is still a story that displays a lack of female authority, humanity, and respect.