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Caligula - TheatreWorks (VIC)

Directed and co-produced by Robert Johnson, Written by Albert Camus

Reviewed by Martha "MJ" Latham

We often see uprisings represented in western media but we rarely see downrisings - a word I've just made up)-. Caligula is not the tale of some underdog who beats the system through cunning and guile, rather it's the tale of an upperdog (an Emperor) who is willing to become a cancer on the very system that grants him the power he wields to destroy it. In Camus’ world, the restructuring of power comes not at the hands of a swift and climactic uprising, but a slow and painful disembowelment by a fed-up uppercruster with nothing left to live for. The hand biting itself so to speak.

The handling of this absurdist work was less than deft, but still remarkable considering the complicated nature of the original text. Considering some of the factors the cast and crew were facing when creating the work; a classic text with heightened language, presenting an absurdist work in a country with little respect for the arts and a low theatrical literacy, 2 years of COVID delays, the massive size of the TheatreWorks space, a 2 hour runtime, the financial realities of independent theatre and a cast of 12, I would say they did an absolutely remarkable job.

RileyTapp did a spectacular job of designing the space to fit a work about Ancient Rome into a delectable modern mouthful. Neat, ripin stripes juxtaposed against swirling black marble and above it all a gigantic mirror representing surveillance, the moon and offered the audience an alternate view of the world. I’m almost certain the decision to warp the reflective surface through a series of segmented cuts and screws was a fiscal one rather than an artistic one (have you ever seen the cost for a mirror that size as a custom cut? Let alone the cost involved with moving and safely rigging such a beast) the warping created some beautiful splattered representations of the characters and scenes below. This included a beautiful last image of Caligula laying dead, beautifully bathed in the cool, reflected light by Tim Bonser. Bonser’s lighting of the space with almost zero backlight and a huge mirror taking up almost a third of the available rig coupled with the decision to use side booms as one of the primary lighting sources was well managed.

The performers were up and down in places and, as the old song goes, when they were up, they were up, but when they were down, they were down. This is likely the teething problems of opening night, but the performances felt very unmotivated and confused from scene to scene. A few moments I loved: the scene where Caligula and Cherea (Liliana Dalton and Paul Dalton, respectively) talk “honest man to honest man” was quite beautiful. Liliana deserves a special mention for their incredibly hard work, including having to perform almost the entire second act in a latex pregnant body suit.

If you're a fan of the absurd, independent theatre makers taking risks, and a little bit of camp, this is the play for you.

Reviewer Rating

3 stars

Caligula plays at TheatreWorks from 28th June to the 2nd July 2022. Tickets can be booked here.

28 June - 2 July 2022 | Tues - Sat 7:30pm

Tickets: $40 Full, $32 Concession/Student, $20

Limited Tickets Per Session


Venue: Theatre Works - 14 Acland St, St Kilda


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