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  • Writer's pictureBrecht Hermans

Review UrbanMag

Bart Magnus wrote a review about Salomé for UrbanMag.

Fatal glances into a beautiful abyss

The moon fascinates the man. She always has. The brighter, the more ecstatic. The more shadowy, the more mysterious. She determines the tides and feeds the superstitions. Her cycle coincides with that of the woman. And that's not a coincidence. King Herod compares the moon to a mad woman. His soldiers associate her with death. And they should know. More than once at night they stood guard at the gates of the palace.

In recent years, Cie Hatsjie has worked with full dedication to establish a place in Hasselt's scenic landscape. Villa Basta has almost become their home base and the cozy arts center Belgium has become their regular premiere location. Director and lyricist Brecht Hermans searched his way through humorous productions in which pure fun took precedence over content (Da'k u can hold you) on the one hand, and more serious adaptation work, such as the beautiful Death in Venice from two years ago, on the other. Salomé, based on the play by Oscar Wilde, is fully in this last track.

King Herod has gone walking with Herodias, his brother's wife. When the prophet John The Baptist criticizes Herod's behavior, he throws him in prison. Herod is afraid of the prophet because of the damage he can inflict on him, but at the same time attaches great importance to his predictions. No one is allowed to see his precious prisoner.

Herod's new wife, (now queen) Herodias, has a beautiful daughter: Salomé. This young femme fatale is so stunning and inscrutable that all men flee in descriptions of the moon to describe the state into which her nearness compels them. Even though they describe the moon, the qualities they ascribe to it are those of Salomé, the woman they yearn for against their own will. The moon, very prominent in this performance, is sometimes described as a mad woman, sometimes as death. One does not have to exclude the other, it turns out. If moon=mad woman and moon=death, then the mad woman is like death, so the most basic mathematics teach us. Salome is indeed equivalent to death. Any man who dares to look at her will perish irrevocably.

Salomé himself only longs for the forbidden. That in this case is John The Baptist, safe under lock and key in King Herod's palace. With striking ease, Salome winds one of Herod's soldiers around her finger and orders him to fetch the prophet for her. "Don't look at her!" another soldier shouts to his companion, “You look at her too much!” He realizes only too well that looking has already killed himself. When he commits suicide shortly afterwards, his death leaves a large pool of blood on the royal terrace. Even the moon turns red. A writing on the wall for what is to come.

The soldier's corpse is stripped and embalmed, after which actor Peter Hendrikx changes roles and begins to play Queen Herodias. For a few moments, a stark naked man with lipstick is playing Herod's wife. A confusing moment that may be purely practical, but could just as easily be seen as a nod to Oscar Wilde's sexual escapades or a confirmation of the suspicion that Herod is more concerned with Salome than with her (unfeminine) mother .

When Salomé sees Johannes, she falls in love herself. She too is a woman of flesh and blood. However, the conquest goes a lot less smoothly than planned. Johannes, an ascetic and therefore more of the mystical type, refuses to look her in the eye. Salomé opens all her bag of tricks and showers Johannes with praise, as music to a mystic's ears. She praises him with superlatives in a terminology that comes straight from the Old Testament Song of Songs. John doesn't make a sound. By the way, he doesn't just refrain from looks, blushing or any more intimate physical activity. His asceticism is extended to his language, which is wordless. While other characters lavish poetic retorts, Johannes communicates his prophecies only through an electric guitar. The resulting music largely has a communicative function. It is much less atmospheric framing than was the case in previous productions by Cie Hatsjie with guitarist Pieterjan Hermans.

Salomé, who is used to getting her way from the male species, cannot stomach Johannes' rejection. King Herod is sad. His marriage to Herodias has not yet brought him closer to his ultimate desire, Salomé. Herod asks Salome to dance for him. In return, she can ask whatever she wants. Salomé agrees, but demands John's head in exchange. Herodias looks on approvingly. Herod has been framed.

Brecht Hermans provided Cie Hatsjie's Salomé with a fairly tight, classical-looking text, which is also presented entirely in that way: solemn and stately, with an almost Shakespearean slant. This results in homogeneous, but collectively strong playing, so that the necessary attention is paid to the text. Only Christiaan Mommeyer, like Herod, regularly draws from other registers. The madness to which Salomé drives him becomes endearingly funny at times, so that - to keep in line with Shakespeare - the king paradoxically becomes the jester of the play.

The austere simplicity is also reflected in the costumes and the decor, consisting of a number of columns with heads on them. The verticality of the columns continues in the podium arrangement. Three playing surfaces of different heights divide spaces and allow hierarchical relationships between characters to be displayed without the need for additional props. King Herod, for example, has no need of a throne, but always descends from the highest regions. By her positioning opposite the soldier, Salomé makes it very clear which of them is in control. Only the lighting is somewhat out of the tight step that characterizes the whole. Which is not to say that no attention has been paid to it. There are a number of quick, well-chosen light changes and the recurring moon takes on a recognizable, atmospheric color. Yet there is still too much flickering back and forth with the light at times where this does not benefit the performance. A very nice final scene is not fully developed due to a strange choice of light.

Like Death in Venice, Salomé starts from a fascination with 'looking' to arrive at the destructive power that lies in deceptively innocent beauty and love. These two completely different stories, in a completely different time and setting, are no coincidence. Cie Hatsjie favors universal themes and succeeds in translating them into a stage with a personal interpretation. Salomé is a heavy chunk of theater with an intensity that comes straight from the heart.

In demanding the head of John, Salomé has hit Herod in a tender spot. The satisfaction of his desire to watch the dancing Salomé has forced him to murder his most precious possession: the prophet John. Herod keeps his promise, but shortly afterwards decides that Salome must also die. Twice the same soldier has to do the terrible job. Salomé's death simultaneously kills the last lifelong desire of the last two remaining men. Their only way out is suicide.

Most beautiful young women are like stars, a few like the sun. It is different with Salomé: she is like the moon, a dead body. She continues to shine scorchingly, even after her death, because of the sun that hides behind it. Killing the femme fatale does not reduce her fatalism. Death returns like an inevitable boomerang. Because she loves. Just as much as love.


Text and direction: Brecht Hermans (after Oscar Wilde)

With: Nele Guiljam, Pieterjan Hermans, Christiaan Mommeyer, Koel Ilsen and Peter Hendrikx

Seen on September 26 in the arts center BELGIE (Hasselt).

Salomé will play in October at Theater Tinnenpot (Ghent), CC Gildhof (Tielt) and PleinTheater (Amsterdam).

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