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Behind A Beheading - Emma Valente Interview

Author: Darryn King
Thursday, 22 May 2008
Salome was the person in the New Testament who seduced Herod and brought about the beheading of John the Baptist. She had what we would call in modern parlance a walk-on role in The Bible. But somehow she's been capturing the artistic imagination for centuries: her story has been retold by everyone from Oscar Wilde and Richard Strauss to Nick Cave and Pete Doherty. Now it is being tackled by The Rabble, a group at the forefront of theatrical experimentation in Australia, in Salome: In Cognito Volume III. Darryn King spoke with director Emma Valente.

Some readers may be familiar with the story of Salome, but probably not quite like this. Can you tell us a bit about The Rabble's interpretation-
Sure. Well I guess my investigation is really about how Salome is involved in the beheading of John the Baptist. In this version it's completely her decision and her action - and it's about how that culminates.

It's also set in suburban Australia, which is quite different. So we get all these clashes, in terms of images from the biblical story, images from the classical Renaissance paintings, as well as images from the Australian landscape - an above-ground suburban pool, an esky, evoking the Australian desert and drought. I think that's a useful metaphor for unquenchable desire. Everyone in the play is always wanting something and is never quite satisfied-

The press notes mention a variety of larger-than-life characters: an albino bride, a masochistic Judo champion, an occasional paraplegic, a hedonistic drag queen... But it sounds from your description that you manage to find the humanity in them-
Yeah I think so. The production is almost all visual, there's not much text at all. I think there has to be a way for the audience to relate or be familiar with these archetypes, and also be familiar with their emotional struggles. So I really tried to etch that out and bring that out in the story. The original bible story is about a paragraph, it doesn't really go into the psychology behind these characters at all. A lot of what we've come up with has been influence by the Oscar Wilde play, but also the general psyche of Australia that I know, which is that we always seem to be wanting, and desiring more than we can have.

Previous works of The Rabble have been compared to shock therapy-
Ha! Really- By who-

It's somewhere on the web- Is this production confronting- It certainly sounds unconventional-
Yeah, and it's certainly very far away from the traditional play. I guess there are some elements of shock and some elements of taboo, but my sole aim isn't to be shocking - I don't aim to completely alienate an audience. I think certainly there are very provocative images that hopefully blend through with the humanity you were talking about.

Is experimental theatre part of the mission statement of The Rabble-
The art that individuals are drawn to is very subjective. The three of us, the three directors, have come together because we have similar interests. We don't set out to be extreme, we just, through our combined interests, end up making the work that we make. I guess we're ambitious in terms of innovation and reinvention of theatrical form. But it's not like 'anti-establishment'. It's just what we enjoy and what we enjoy watching as well.

You mention there's no text- How then do you communicate the story of Salome-
There's lots of moments in conventional theatre where there are no words and the story is told. It's all done through images.

Narrative to me isn't the most important thing. It isn't a complete linear narrative, we're kind of getting snapshots from this world - a sensory experience. All the design elements come