THEATRE REVIEW: New approach to biblical execution divides opinion

Isabella Nefar as Salome and Olwen Fouere in Yael Farber's production of Salome at The National Theatre, London. Photo by Johan Persson.

Salome by Yael Farber, National Theatre Live, South Holland Centre, Spalding

The beheading of John the Baptist by order from Roman ruler Herod Antipas is one of the Bible’s darkest stories.

Now South African theatre director Yael Farber has taken the tale of how dancing for a dictator led to the murder of an prophet and turned it on its head with her production, “Salome”.

Isabelle Nefar, a relatively recent graduate from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, takes the title role as Herod’s daughter-in-law who, in Farber’s hands, is a freedom fighter instead of a femme fatale.

The play puts John (Lebanese actor Ramzi Choukair) in the middle of a power struggle between the Romans and the people of Judaea, now part of modern day Israel.

John’s outrage with Herod (Paul Chahidi) and his unlawful marriage to Herodias, wife of Herod’s brother Philip, stirred such hatred that Herodias ended up persuading Salome to ask for John’s head in return for her dance in front of Herod.

That is the Bible’s account, in total contrast to Farber who gets Salome and John to agree an unofficial pact to set off a Christian revolution that ultimately brings the downfall of an empire.

National theatre critics described the two-hour play as “overblown, imprecise and a headache”, but it was far more interesting and intriguing than that.

Review by Winston Brown.

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