There will be blood. That expression well sums up the tyrannical reign of Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, better known as Caligula. He was the third Roman emperor, who ruled from the years 37 to 41, before he was assassinated. Considered mad, he murdered at will and on a whim. Burning House has crafted a bold adaptation of the life and times of the antihero, who left a trail of destruction.
After the death of his sister and lover Drusilla, Caligula has gone missing for three days and the Senators are deeply concerned as to what has become of him. Upon his return, Caesar declares that he wants the impossible – the moon, no less. He says so as Rome is on its knees financially and Caligula lays out a plan to turn the economy around in two easy steps. The first involves everyone in the empire being forced to disinherit their children. The second – even more drastic measure – revolves around executing people. These decrees are to take effect immediately.
When challenged, Caesar makes it clear that his words are no practical joke. He knows he is on a path to self-destruction, but he doesn’t care. He maintains that existence is meaningless and he loathes all the Senators because they are such willing slaves. Among his more outrageous endeavours is a desire to make suffering funny. No overtures from those closest to him make a shred of difference as he freely admits that he can feel the darkness rising.
And then it begins – the children and parents of his Senators are killed, before he starts taking the lives of the Senators themselves. Caligula’s cruelty and heartlessness seemingly know no bounds. As a study of psychological torment and physical violence, Caligula the play – originally published by Albert Camus in 1944 – is “out there”. The dialogue I witnessed at Theatre Works is often incendiary and certainly generates a reaction.
Liliana Dalton is particularly impressive as the embodiment of evil – poking, prodding and provoking. Jake Matricardi doesn’t put a foot wrong as Scipio, a timid young man who loves Caesar and tries in vain to set him on another path. Most of the 12-strong cast is sound, although I was concerned about one whose voice didn’t project and another whose every spoken word was delivered megaphone style.
I felt the first act had more in it than the second, which tended to drag. I am not convinced the storyline, as presented, had two hours in it. Still, overall, I admired the production’s audaciousness. A faux marble diamond shaped stage is ringed by an assortment of glitter that has a pot pouri look. Small busts reflect the era, while a large silver “full moon” above reflects the action and Caesar’s self-absorption. Riley Tapp is the designer. Not for the feint-hearted, Caligula – directed by Robert Johnson – is playing at Theatre Works until 23rd July, 2022.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- Caesar (La Boite Theatre Company) – Theatre Review
- Boy Swallows Universe (Queensland Theatre) – theatre review
- Marjorie Prime (Ensemble) – theatre review
Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.