Holden Street Theatres – The Studio
Theatrical nihilism is alive and well in this inherently bleak portrayal of Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus – better known by history as Caligula. Penned by French-Algerian philosopher and author of the absurdist tradition, Albert Camus wrote works exploring the human condition that results from a complete acceptance as to the meaningless of life. This treatment of the Caligula story, translated by Scottish playwright and theatre director David Grieg, is darkly manic and depressing yet contains moments of humour and genuine pathos – qualities well explored by director Michael Eustice and his capable cast.
As the infamous oppressor, Robert Bell dominates the script, as Caligula dominated Rome during his purportedly terrifying reign. Bell worked hard to portray a complex character whose madness seemed to stem from the depression occasioned by the death of his sister (and incestuous lover), Drusilla. When not proposing to the moon, Caligula’s ominously logical, cold calculations are frightening, his capacity for cruelty seemingly infinite. Bell is admirable in his portrayal, able to deftly evoke not only the ruler’s lunacy and deviancy but also injects a jarring sensitivity, serving to highlight the horrors of his actions even more.
A strong supporting cast of Roman senators were well placed to philosophize about the craziness of life and the vulnerability of those for who protest is an impossibility. The parallel with modern regimes under which citizens must suffer without voice is impossible to escape. At the same time, many of the humorous moments were found in the relief provided by these fine performers as they bumble about an appropriately Spartan stage. Lighting and costuming were effectively simple, leaving the script to carry the story without interruption.
It may be said that this play is little more than a series of scenes designed to portray one torturous act after another, leading to the eventual – and obvious – assassination of the tyrant in question. What this play also does, and what this Red Phoenix Theatre production manages to portray so well, is an exploration of madness ‘explained’ and the capacity for society to survive it. A disturbingly gripping piece of theatre.
Rosie van Heerde
Albert Camus’ Caligula continues at Holden Street Theatres – The Studio, at various times, until Sun 2 Jun.
Book at holdenstreettheatres.com. Click HERE to purchase your tickets.