The classic silent movie The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari receives a new twist in ChewBoy Productions’ Caligari. Showing at Underbelly Cowgate (Big Belly), the performance is written by Georgie Bailey and directed by Lucy Betts. The performance retells the story of Dr. Caligari and his murderous somnambulist through an energetic cast of musicians, and the production is both intriguing and incongruous.
The characters, conscious of their impending fate, bicker with each other and struggle to prevent the horrors that await them. The parallels between the tyrannical character of Dr. Caligari and corrupt political figures of recent are made painfully obvious.
The show generates a surrealist atmosphere incredibly well, and moments from the silent movie were cleverly translated to the stage to make the performance feel immersive. The production has a great sense of what The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is, maintaining a slow but eerie rhythm.
That being said, the ambitious show incorporates music, adaptation, political commentary, humour, drama, philosophical ideas and “it’ll all make sense soon” moments, spreading itself too thin. What seemed like a comment on police brutality took place over a few lines, and while the political aspect of the work is interesting, it is often stated rather than demonstrated, causing it to feel underdeveloped.
The ensemble cast are endearing throughout, and their musical talents alone make this show enjoyable. Boasting a five-piece orchestra, the music of Caligari is well incorporated and beautifully sung. The acting delivered by Alan, Caligari, Jane, Francis and Cesare was enjoyable, however the jump from comedic moments with kazoos and flashing lights into grave moments that felt as though we should be taking them seriously felt rather jarring.
The venue, set and costumes were perfect for this performance and were used effectively to aid the storytelling, while the onstage instruments and lighting complemented the scenography. The production nailed the palate of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, adding a contemporary edge without slipping into Tim Burton territory.
Fans of the movie will definitely find something to enjoy in this contemporary take on the classic, and its overall vibes are cleverly executed. The music is wonderful and the cast are charming, but the chaotic journey and rather blatant message undermines the real political potential of Caligari.