Caligula | The Danger EnsemblePhoto – Dylan Evans Photography

Is Caligula?:
A. The Roman emperor Gaius who ruled from 37 AD to 41 AD;
B. An erotic film made in 1979;
C. A trite theatrical piece that displayed powerful potential to engage its audience in the first five minutes but failed to deliver for the rest of its showing at The Judith Wright Centre in Brisbane; or
D. All of the above.

The Danger Ensemble’s theatrical work Caligula leaves this reviewer uninspired and lacking in desire to share what was experienced through my lens. However, I will preface all that I write from this point onwards, that despite the lack of impact the piece had on me (and I was dearly hoping for very much the opposite) I believe that there is a valuable and indeed very important place for theatre of this kind within the theatrical landscape. I applaud the artists/performers for their contribution and the inherent risk and vulnerability it takes to breathe work of this nature to life and step whole heartedly onto stage in front of an audience and offer up their art. Is Caligula something all theatre devotees should experience? I don’t believe so. It is something that, if you are willing to challenge your preconceptions of what theatre should be and how it should behave for its audience, will definitely deliver this challenge. 

Entering the space at The Judith Wright Centre was enthralling. The mixed up booming sounds of a rolling pulse and electronic created noises, such as white noise, vibrated throughout the space. This forceful yet somehow calming sound was paired with a powerful stage picture of five white living ghostly sculptures frozen at the rear of the stage. These images slowly came to life and the sculptural body plates that framed their positions ascended towards the heavens. The white bodies lurched and pushed with steady control until nearly all of them left the stage. In the burgeoning moments of Caligula I was captivated and ready for the level of intensity that was promised in the opening spectacle to either sustain my enchantment or increase it in what was to ensue. 

What did ensue was a drawn out disappointing ride and frankly apart from some very clever and memorable visuals, and well conceived set, lighting and costume design, I’m scraping the bottom of my mental barrel to find anything else memorable about the performance. The spoken text didn’t stick, with the exception of the “I’d like…” or was it the “I wish…” scene, but what I remember most are my thoughts at the time (‘I wish this show would finish, so I can go and eat dinner’) rather than the dialogue. I have a vague recollection of the music and live song, that contained moments of familiarity but mostly I found the singing too much like bad karaoke and as a result I tuned out because the singing wasn’t in tune.

What has stayed with me are the visuals. The wonderful and striking stage effigies were the best part of the performance. For instance the sea of plastic cups the performers moved and swam through, the body of a man naked and wrapped in clear packing tape, the female Jesus and diagonally opposite her and standing high on a plinth a semi naked man (the emperor perhaps) tinseled and glittered up red and green like a Christmas tree (his baubles truly the kind you wouldn’t want hanging from your own family Christmas tree). 

So take what you will from this review/reflection of The Danger Ensemble’s Caligula. I feel like the point of the piece was lost on me (perhaps that was the point?). Narrative and character were thrown overboard into a sea of plastic cups and replaced with random text from a range of amazing writers like Plath, Cave and Camus but the delivery of their snippets of prose failed to engage. Ideas that were perhaps inspired by the speculated sexual exploits, sadism and decadence associated with Caligula’s reign became a ‘modernised’ pastiche of scenes and karoke and possibly performed as some form of social or political comment. I’ll end by quoting my theatre companion for the evening, “Each to their own but that was weird as fudge.”                 

The Danger Ensemble presents

Director Steven Mitchell Wright

Venue: Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts | 420 Brunswick St (cnr Berwick St), Fortitude Valley QLD
Dates: 4 – 12 July, 2014
Tickets: $35 – $20

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