The Fletcher Players’ SALOME, based on the story of John the Baptist’s execution, ordered by Princess Salome to defy her stepfather King Herod, uses unusual techniques to create an uncomfortable and oppressive atmosphere.
SALOME is an artistic experiment. Director Olly Francis has used every tool at her disposal to make the play as strange as the biblical story which inspired it. The combination of vibrant costumes, eerie sound effects, unnatural physical theatre and an anachronistic set design has created an effect which is both unnerving and totally jarring.
The play opens with a visually arresting physical sequence performed by the minor characters. Accompanied by strobe lighting and a heavy bass beat, this immediately creates an unnatural mood and sets up the odd interplay between the characters that will continue throughout the play. Daniel Dickins’ lighting is in fact continues to be successful: the unusual colours he chooses bounce well off the actors’ bright costumes, and by tactically reducing visibility during the less naturalistic sequences, he increases their intrigue and leaves them tantalisingly out of reach.
The vast majority of technical elements of this play perfectly compliment the play’s overwhelmingly uncomfortable mood. One thing that I took issue with somewhat, however, is the set design. The setting of the London Underground certainly helps to disorientate the audience further and provides a welcome space for background characters to sit, but the constant foreboding references to the moon seems out of sync when the characters are supposed to be underground. On the other hand, this seems unimportant when our senses are flooded by the play’s many other great features, including, of course, the cast’s amazing performances.
One performance which deserves a special mention is Roma Ellis’ portrayal of Iokanaan. The physicality in their performance is extremely effective as they make this intense prophet’s body grotesque and distorted. Iokanaan’s dark and ominous prophecies are also given greater weight by Ellis’ fierce, piercing glare.
The rest of the cast also performs admirably. Marianne Porter successfully presents Salome as spoiled, vulnerable or empowered and defiant at different points in the play. Celine Clark is also engaging in her presentation of Herod, a weak, vain man who is far too sexually interested in his stepdaughter. The character she creates is repellent, but also elicits some unexpected laughs which are a welcome break in the tension. It sometimes seems that some background characters are on the stage for too long without a purpose, but this is probably more the fault of the original script than the decisions of the director or performances of the actors.
One should not watch this play in order to relax. It was simultaneously inviting and repelling, amusing and horrifying. But most of all, it was completely fascinating. If you want a play that will intrigue you as it explores the artistic possibilities available in student theatre, look no further. Herod’s court awaits…