Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff
Thursday 22nd June 2017
Director– Yael Farbër
Herod– Paul Chahidi
Iokanaan– Ramzi Choukair
Nameless– Olwen Fouréré
Pilot– Lloyd Hutchinson
Salomé So Called– Isabella Nefar
Salomé, the young Hebrew girl who dances for Herod and asks for the head of John the Baptist has until recently been portrayed in a negative manner- She indirectly kills one of the main leaders of the fledgling Christian movement. However, Farbër’s bold retelling of this biblical fable places Salomé, played by Isabella Nefar, at the forefront of the story as an anguished young girl who rebels against the Roman occupation of the Hebrew homeland, igniting a revolution against the Roman oppressors through a simple dance.
As Farbër explains in a documentary shown prior to the broadcast of the play, she aims to explore themes of oppression, both military and sexual in the play, adding that she believes that this will bring the play right up to date as these issues are still relevant in our society today as they were in the 1st Century, when the play is set.
Many of the members of the cast come from areas of the world such as Syria for example, where wars and military occupations have led to great discomfort and distress on behalf of the native residents. This again allows the audience to imagine what these people, both past and present, have had to cope with under a foreign occupation.
Olwen Fouréré who played Nameless, an older version of the Salomé played by Nefar, gave definitely one of the best performances of the night narrating much of the story including young Salomé’s speaking parts for the majority of the play. The interaction between her and Pilate (Lloyd Hutchinson) shows a woman who although being under the thumb of a powerful Roman leader remains defiant making him scared- he knows that it was her who caused his downfall through the creation of a Hebrew revolution. The theme of male characters being in awe and scared of women continues throughout the play and can also be seen in the relationship between Herod and Salomé. Salomé, showing her natural stubbornness, defies Herod’s advances causing him to be confused as to why this young girl, his stepdaughter, who “he has given everything to” does not love and respect him.
To contrast this theme of thwarted male exploitation of women, it was interesting to see how Iokannan (John the Baptist), “Rome’s most dangerous insurgent”, played by Ramzi Choukair treats Salomé. He views her as his equal believing that through her he will gain what he wants, his death, and the subsequent anti-Roman revolution.
The staging by Susan Hilferty, added greatly to the play. The rotating-centre circular stage allowed scenes to develop in the play where certain actors who did not have speaking parts were still present, allowing the audience to be aware of the complex connections between all characters in Farbër’s play.
I particularly liked the roles of the “Women of Songs”, Lubana Al Quntar and Yasmin Levy, who sang what sounded like traditional Hebrew songs during the play whilst wearing traditional Middle-Eastern costumes. This added context to the play as usually we never hear this sort of music or see these clothes in our Western society.
My only criticism of the play would be the use of what well could have been Hebrew by Iokannan. Ramzi Choukair was the only actor who did not speak in English in the play and I can see that Farbër may have included this in her script to make Iokannan seem different from the Romans and the established Hebrew rulers who speak English. However, although it was intriguing to hear this language spoken, I found that it hindered the scenes in which he acted as the audience had to read subtitles as well as watching him. As I was watching the play on a broadcast link, sometimes the subtitles were late and at times even missing. The language of Iokannan was an issue at a later stage in the play as the translation of what he was saying during Salomé’s dance was spoken by Nameless and was not done through subtitles. This added to the general chaos of this moment, as combined with the booming drums and wailing singers, it was difficult to tell whether this was what Iokannan was saying translated in English, or was the words of Nameless.
Overall however, I enjoyed this play a great deal and thought that Farbër’s retelling of the story gave the audience a great deal to think about. This was my second time watching a theatre play via a direct broadcast having seen “King Lear” in college earlier in the year. Both times I have been very impressed by the performances and filming as you feel almost in the theatre front-row with the audience. However, this time I was pleased to understand what was going on, and came out with a fresh perspective on this ancient tale.
Rating: 3.5 STARS
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