Review: August 012 Ltd - Caligula @ Chapter
Where to begin with this review?
Whilst looking for a video of the production, I couldn’t find a trailer of sorts. Instead the cast have done their own Harlem Shake. I begrudgingly put the video on the right. Everyone and their cat have done this stupid fad. By the time I write this, its popularity is already over. But it foretells the style of the productionâ€¦
There seemed to be something up when I knew this production had sold out. Ten nights only at Chapter Arts Centre. The Studio or even Stwdio at Chapter is tucked away, yet a great little venue for theatre and other events. The last time I was in there for a show was for The Life Of Galileo by Brecht. That production used samples of Brecht’s type of theatre. But for Caligula it went to the extremes.
Written by French writer and philosopher Albert Camus (pronounced Cam–moo) it tells of the life of Caligula, the Roman emperor. Caligula is famous for many things: his immense cruelty, relentless debauchery and downright absurdity. He is so notorious that he would be on my list of people not to visit from history. He wants the moon. He wants the actual moon. He makes his horse Incitatus a member of the consul. He thought he was a god. He went to war with Poseidon. Just a selection of his bizarre antics as emperor. Although not all of this can be confirmed as being 100% true. But there’s no smoke without fire.
This production wanted no prisoners in the audience. We were practically in the play such was the immediacy. The actors in their roles talked to us, hurled different items at us, even offered us some grapes. When first going in I thought to myself, ‘‘Oh lord, it’s going to be one of those productions’’. You simply have to give it your all. You must be confident enough to acknowledge the hands-on approach and how our personal space is shattered into tiny pieces. It was very absorbing. Jarring at first, I’ll give you that. But such a great idea. I saw a few people wriggle in their seats in discomfort at what was to take place. You could very easily watch other audience members since the seats were scattered all over the venue.
We had two actors playing Caligula, Christopher Elson and Adam Redmore. A fine job they did too. Watching them both come and go, it was as if Jedward were in power and they were going to have a fabulously demented time. This is by far the campest show I’ve ever seen. When Caligula dressed up as the goddess Venus, here he dresses up brilliantly as Venus Williams, the tennis player. He then went around the audience with his racquet and gently blessed us by bopping it over our heads. A stocking over his face looked quite startling but helped to darken his skin. This production was as mad as a box of frogs to say the least. Having Caligula upside down on a wheelchair rotating seven times, so his testicles could lure the moon out of orbit (don’t ask). The little touches of multimedia, TV and phones added to the modernity of the work. This is the time of Mugabe and Berlusconi. Not a lot has changed in politics in 2,000 years. It seems tyrants never dieâ€¦ or do they?
As for more of the intimate role with the audience, I was asked off my seat by the cast (the one time I really wished I didn’t bring a bag and coat), asked to move out of the way to obtain slippers under my seat amongst other quirky actions. At one point Caligula went behind my seat and the man next to me, to slide between them and rest himself on our legs. I was delighted by this yet slightly mortified. I should have rubbed his knee just for the fun of it. So the whole audience was looking at me and I couldn’t help but have this big smirk on my face. That same smirk was painted over my face most of the evening. Holding back the laughter at just the silliness of certain moments. The back of my neck was gently fondled as well at one pointâ€¦
Elders from Ely, Fairwater and Rumney were our senate. Most of these had never acted or been in a production before. They added a great deal of charm to the play and some hilarious moments with them were also brimming with nonsense and malice. I should also point out John Norton as Helicon brought a lovely thuggish cockney charm. He even dropped the beats for the evening, at times rapping the text much to my bafflement.
This was certainly a very refreshing type of theatrical experience. You forget that theatre can be like this. We as audiences are mostly static and passive. Here you simply have to do the complete opposite. Resistance is futile.
Why can’t more theatre be like this?
Related Article: Review: Julius Caesar @ New Theatre