Caligula

Although his writing is poetry as much as philosophy, there is a danger that any performance of a work by Albert Camus might neglect the more intriguingly human aspects of his literary questioning and produce an effect akin to that of being beaten by a chalky board-eraser for sixty minutes. Luckily, KCS Theatre's production of his 1957 work Caligula takes the ideas of French existentialism out of the classroom and into a completely different world (though also mostly filled by white men with beards and glasses) with a lot of dark humour and inventive physical movement along the way.Thirteen is an unusually large cast for a fringe show, but Caligula provides a masterclass in group choreography. The stage is always moving, always alive, in a way that instantly establishes a slightly otherworldly and non-naturalistic tone for the production; the deliberately heterogenous costume choices also help to make the setting at once now and then, forever and never, as Roman senators rub shoulders with an emperor in a modern slogan T-shirt. Caligula himself, played by Luke Sumner, is often great, with his fey delivery and vocal and physical acrobatics. Some of the supporting cast are also strong, but generally variable performances mean passages of wonderful poetry are often lost; the threads of complicated philosophical speculation are also at times quite difficult to follow.But perhaps the best thing about the show is its visual aspect – two large, moveable mirrors, as well as solving the obvious difficulty of not being able to see from the back, serve to highlight Camus' ideas about examination of the conscience, the fractured self, and the consequences of our actions. They cast an eerie, distorted backlight over the proceedings, giving the play a dizzyingly queasy fun-house feel. The ending seems to miss a trick in their previously impeccable use – but it's possible their final significance will become clearer later in the run.The title's suggestion of Roman decadence may leave some disappointed – this is more a text about how absolute power corrupts absolutely, or more specifically, the frightening nature of unfettered freedom, of doing whatever one can because one can, to discover if limits are even capable of existing. KCS Theatre don't answer all of these questions, and nor does Camus – but they make them a lot more interesting to watch than you'd imagine from how I just described them.

Reviews by Richard O'Brien

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The Blurb

The Emperor is in command, but spiralling out of control. In David Greig's savagely funny translation of Camus' dark masterpiece, there's a fine line between knowing your mind and losing it. 'KCS Theatre has a remarkable Fringe record' (WhatsOnStage.com).

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