Olivier Theatre, The National Theatre.
9 May 2017
Director and writer Yaël Farber follows up her National hit of Les Blancs with her reworking of the myth of Salome, and provides a beautifully staged production in the process. Colonisation, the abuse and mistreatment of women, and the subsequent rewriting and erosion of women from myth and history are the central concerns of the piece, still sadly relevant today.
The visual and aural narrative of the production is excellent, creating Carravagio-esque tableaus of beauty and violence to a beautifully sung score by the Women of Song. When you have the outstanding Olwen Fouéré, (I will never forget her performance in riverrun), as the Nameless narrator, (although she is the voice of Salomé), then you know the story is going to be powerfully told. Her voice fills the Olivier stage and auditorium, keeping the narrative clear. Ramzi Choukair is a beautiful and powerful John the Baptist and Isabella Nefar is haunting and mesmerising as Salomé. Paul Chahidi is an excellent, sinister Herod, and the whole company move wonderfully under the guidance of Movement Director Ami Shulman.
The direction and design are absolutely beautiful, utilising the huge Olivier perfectly, creating astonishing imagery, rivers of water, sand, and, indeed blood, motifs that are layered with meaning throughout the production. Yet the heartbeat of the piece remains constant throughout, never flat lining, but also rarely raising the pulse rate and pacing up. It has a steady, almost too careful rhythm, and needed more dramatic impetus in places; I felt much the same of her production of The Crucible at the Old Vic in 2014. However, there is a great depth of performance and artistic power that makes this a mesmerising, at times hypnotic, evening.