Monday, 18 February 2013

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari - review

Arcola Theatre, London

Perhaps the best introduction to The Cabinet of Dr Caligari and indeed to this company came at about an hour into the piece when the audience is presented with the line: “We don’t have much, but we’ll dazzle them with what we have: a few sheets, some wood, and plenty of imagination” and dazzle us they did. You will never see a company who can captivate so completely with so little as Simple8. Self-described as ‘poor’ theatre, they adapt this cinematic classic on a shoestring budget with such incredible skill and effect; it will simply blow you away.

Photo: Idil Sukan

Summarising the storyline of Dr Caligari is difficult because it’s so bizarre, as is the nature of German Expressionist cinema. But for those of you not acquainted with the 1920’s classic, I’ll give it a go. Part murder mystery, part horror; it follows bureaucrat Franzis Gruber (Joseph Kloska), a nervy and downtrodden sort, who’s bullied at work and hopeless in love, as his life descends into chaos on the arrival of a town fair, and one act in particular, Dr Caligari (Oliver Birch) and his Somnambulist, Cesare (Christopher Doyle), that’s sleepwalker in plain English.

Photo: Idil Suken
Adapting a piece from the canon of silent film history and giving it an audible voice could be viewed as sacrilege by some, but writers and directors Sebastian Armesto and Dudley Hinton have created a script that gels seamlessly with the story, comprising of such life and razor-sharp wit that it feels almost like a missing piece finally returned. Although the piece accomplishes it, this is by no means a half-hearted attempt to make the story more accessible, it’s a wonderful interpretation that allows characters to build, bubble and connect amidst the surreal expressionist aesthetic.

Photo: Idil Sukan
The genius of this piece lies in the adaptation of the expressionist aesthetic to stage. Whilst the film was characterised by jagged sets that played with proportion and perspective, Simple8 use theatrical techniques such as mime, live sound and shadow play to recreate the surreal and dreamlike ambiance. They make filing mesmerising, using simply a plank of wood passed between cast members and some incredibly synchronised live sounds to evoke the opening of drawers and flicking through of  files.  The murders, presented as a silhouette show with a well-positioned light grotesquely distorting the actors’ shadows on a sheet, are delightfully macabre and faithful to the expressionist style. Fans of silent-cinema will particularly enjoy the chase between Jane (Sophia Roberts) and the Somnambulist, the scream punctuated by a musical spike is just wonderful.

It’s such a pleasure to see a show where every member of the cast is sublime, I could wax lyrical about each one for several pages, each performance is so well characterised; Kloska as Gruber is so pathetically likeable, Sargon Yelda as both his boss and enemy in love is fantastically slimy and Christian Doyle’s ethereal physicality as Cesare is haunting and captivating. Each performer is complimentary of the next; there is a tangible bond between the ensemble and the piece is made stronger for it. They bounce off each other with such slick energy and comic timing, never allowing the piece to falter, whisking you along in their dream-like world from start to finish. I strongly recommend you join them for the ride.

This production runs until 16th March 2013.
For more information:
@arcolatheatre @simple8theatre

Follow us on Twitter / Like us on Facebook

No comments: