Presented by Red Phoenix Theatre and Holden Street Theatres
Reviewed 27 May 2018
Red Phoenix Theatre set themselves up to present only Adelaide premieres and have very quickly established themselves as producers of very high quality theatre. Their latest offering, Albert Camus’ Caligula (in a new translation by David Greig) is no exception – and in fact, may have not just raised the bar, but broken it. This production is bloody good theatre.
Caligula (Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus) was the third Emperor of the Roman Empire known for supposedly sleeping with all his sisters, executing landowners to take control of their lands, closing granaries to cause starvation and taking the wives of his senators and putting them into brothels (when he wasn’t killing their children). Also, he reputedly had conversations with the moon and adored his horse so much that he was going to make it a member of the Roman Senate.
Camus’ examination of this man mixes humour in fairly equal proportion to drama, but the play is wordy. However, one does not notice due to Director Michael Eustice’s slick pacing and extremely tight direction of his fine cast. His use of well timed silences is exceptional. Thanks to Eustice, every moment is reminiscent of viewing a Roman Fresco, with him ‘painting’ some beautifully visual pictures. This overall effect is aided superbly by Kate Prescott’s classically lined black and white set, Sharon Malujlo’s extremely authentic Roman attire and Richard Parkhill’s and Paul Tossell’s subtle lighting moods.
To do a fine, strong play justice one must have a cast to match and Eustice has gathered a doozy! The Roman Senate is well represented with strong performances by Malcolm Walton, David Lockwood, Adrian Barnes (stealing the scene deliciously with a nice little ‘running gag’), Joshua Coldwell and John Rosen, all led by the senatorial David Grybowski. Brant Eustice is a very well played conspiratorial ‘voice of reason’, with a scene in Act II with Caligula (Robert Bell) that is a Master Class in how softness and stillness can speak volumes. As Caligula’s friend, Scipio, 17 year old Mark Mulders holds his own very well with the older, more experienced actors.
As Caligula’s ‘confidants’, head slave, Helicon and mistress, Caesonia, Tracey Walker and Lyn Wilson are wonderfully natural, with Walker, in particular, commanding in presence and voice. Special mention must be given to Ruby Faith, who, as a Senator’s wife, does not utter a word – but her face speaks volumes: we feel her suffering and abuse every second of her fairly short appearance.
As Caligula, Robert Bell is stellar (once again), giving a magnificent portrayal of an extremely disturbed, maniacal man. But Bell’s performance is brilliantly well-balanced and controlled, never once going ‘over the top’ nor ‘hamming it up’ (which in the hands of a lesser actor, would be so easy to do). This young actor takes brave risks in exploring the characters that he portrays, and it always pays off: this time in shining sestertius.
Do not miss this brilliant production, or you will be as mad as Caligula himself.
Reviewed by Brian Godfrey