This is David Greig’s version of Albert Camus’ Caligula and a finely-scripted play indeed. The existential arguments are made very clear – always a help to those of us perhaps not that versed in such matters – and KCS Theatre Company (from King’s College School, Wimbledon) delivers a skilled and highly entertaining production.
Caligula has lost his beloved sister and the world no longer has meaning for him. He becomes obsessed with logic and taking logical argument to the most extreme form possible in his life “at all costs”. Unfortunately for all, he is the emperor and his life affects everyone else’s, from his mistress forced to act as cruelly as he orders, through the devoted friend trying desperately to understand him, the senators he humiliates, tortures and decimates, and on to the ordinary people who suffer when he makes such decrees as “a famine starts tomorrow”, with the closure of the state’s grain stores.
This Caligula who “turns philosophy into corpses” is splendidly played by a young actor who commits fully to the ideas, humour and extremes of the character and play, both physically and vocally, while displaying excellent timing and interpretation. His mistress, his “last witness”, is played with an understated subtlety that brings genuine feeling to the role and connection to the audience, while the philosophic writer who is Caligula’s nemesis grabs attention and makes good sense of the arguments involved. Others hold their own on the stage with mixed success, but the direction moves action along smartly and with great style.
Two mirrors, which can be lit to show characters behind them, are put to set use well, though they do not reflect floor action early enough, so that some scenes are slightly obscured when played on the floor despite raked seating. Music and sound effects heighten scene setting and emotion with well-chosen placement and meaning, and costume is both modern and ancient – suits with draped material, leather and grecian dresses – in a way that is surprising but apt. Physical illustrations of time passing and political manoeuvrings are clear and effective, as is lighting that is Fringe basic yet still specific.
There is a real sense of thought, effort, ability and understanding running through this production, with a fair amount of impressive talent on show and direction that keeps pace, energy and attention at full throttle throughout. KCS Theatre Company’s Caligula will have you laughing, shocked, disgusted, concerned, caring and despairing as well as, quite possibly, almost convinced by this supposedly ‘mad’ emperor’s reasoning. And there are any amount of hilariously spiked one-liners to entertain and disconcert modern society and politicians too.
By Danielle Farrow
14 – 20 August, 15:15 (16:30) @ C Venues – C