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The Journal of Camus Studies
Formerly the Journal of the Albert Camus Society, the JCS is published annually and is available in print or as an ebook. For more information on purchasing or contributing visit the Camus Journal page.
Caligula by the Ashes and Diamonds Theatre Company, 22 March - 21 April 2012. A powerful depiction of the psychological impact of a man's confrontation with the absurd.
The ‘theatre' was created by the company out of a large space in several floors from the ground at the Elevator Gallery in Hackney Wick. Entrance was through the double doors of the service lift; the journey upwards providing an opportunity to don masks. These masks were similar to those worn by masquerade-goers but made of cardboard and tied with string. Once inside, we were confronted with ancient Rome in cardboard. Cardboard can rarely be described as magnificent however set designer, artist Billy AB, spectacularly transformed the space. Drinks were available at the back, while actors in costume mingled with the audience. A couple of beers, reasonably priced but a little warm, were taken back to our seat (a long communal step, which, like everything else, was covered in cardboard).
Caligula, in black leather with bleached blonde hair, was played by director Mark Wright. I'd met Wright a few weeks previously, he's an approachable and affable guy, unrecognizable as the man on stage. The Caligula dancing in front of us was wide-eyed, manic and clearly a little mentally disturbed. The rest of the cast, the patricians, seemed as intimidated by him as we were. In the admirable performance I'd seen at the Donmar Warehouse in 2003 (Michael Sheen as Caligula) it was the fear and uncertainty of living under the Emperor that was in focus. In this production, we got a strong sense of the psychological exhaustion of living under such impossible conditions.
The actors were working from a devised script with reference to modern events, such as reality television and the Olympics. For the most part everything worked well, remaining true to Camus' original intentions for the play. A long scene with Caligula's parts delivered in voice-over while the actor was off-stage could have done with shortening. The patricians, working together as group on stage, could have been a bit tighter, but this is a minor quibble. Overall, the Ashes and Diamonds Theatre company pulled together a powerful piece of theatre. Taking into account that they were working completely unfunded and driven by dedication and vision alone, what they managed to achieve is remarkable. The next play for them will be Underground, based on the Warsaw uprising of 1945.