Healing King Herod – VAULT Festival, London

Reviewer: Adam Stevenson

Writer: Riss Obolensky

Director: Eloïse Poulton

Healing King Herod sees everyone’s favourite Biblical baby-killer moving away from previous genocidal peccadilloes towards a kinder, fluffier place. Wishing to pass on his new knowledge, he introduces the audience to a four-step, non-linear self improvement course in finding their inner child (and not massacring it).

Entering with steely eye and plastic crown, Riss Oblensky’s Herod commands audience members to make way and demands homage from them. Giving a rousing and utterly unhinged speech, Herod stirs up his followers to infanticide with some less than expert keepy-uppies involving a dolly and a baseball bat. Then a voice-over reveals that this is a re-enactment and Oblensky strips down to a looser, hippier Herod who conveys the audience through an hour of mangled pop-psychology, with a little spiritualism for flavour.

The vacuousness of self-help is wonderfully parodied, from the egg-centred guided meditation, to the contentless graphs and graphics. The audience is encouraged to breathe in through their mouths and out through their chakras, contemplate the emptiness of the back of someone’s head and wail to release their inner demons. Those closer to the front are chosen to apologise for their deep sins and let off (rather unreliable) party poppers when everyone else offers their forgiveness. This is all mediated by the loose-limbed, inauthentically authentic figure of Herod, whose own problems occasionally slip through.

Oblensky is magnetic, performing a dense script but willing to stretch a moment or improvise to fit the audience. Even the periodic rumbling of trains over the venue’s roof becomes a comic moment and a display of ‘mindful eating’ has the audience wheezing with laughter. While regal Herod dealt in blistering stares and a mournful mask-like mouth, self-help Herod is a bouncing ball of fragile positivity who describes the central nervous system like he’s imparting mystical wisdom. Oblensky plays the audience with ease, maintaining a comic tension throughout even as the blustering, faux-confident Herod cracks and reveals the baby inside.

This performance is for anyone who has ever sat through a positivity or mindfulness seminar and wondered what dark secrets the speaker was hiding. Funny, memorable and bold, Healing King Herod is a great hour with a master manipulator.

Runs until 26 February 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

This Herod is Great.

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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