REVIEW: SUDS Presents "Caligula"
By Ellie Stephenson
“Why don’t you like me”, asks young, evil emperor Caligula to the author Cherea, who replies “there’s nothing likeable about you.” Cherea’s right about Caligula the character, but completely wrong about the eponymous play. Caligula, SUDS’ latest production based on the play by Camus, directed by Jess Zlotnick, is a clever and beautiful creation about the tyrannical and mass-murdering Roman Emperor Caligula (a.k.a Caius). It alternates ably between the macabre, the poetic, the humorous, and the borderline hysterical, mulling over the nature of power and logic.
The play starts with the disappearance of Caligula, who -- before vanishing – was a benign and pliable Emperor. His departure follows the death of his sister and mistress (ew!), Drusilla. Upon his return, he raves about the need to do the impossible, and soon reveals a twisted new philosophy towards ruling, believing it a matter of ‘logic’ to execute his subjects and expropriate their possessions. The play then follows his abuses of power and the patricians’ attempts to assassinate him.
Caitlin Williams is a commanding Caligula, conveying the absurdity and brutality of his reign adeptly, with a performance that fluctuates between intense, soberly reflective and manic. Serena Dalton gives an emotional performance as Caesonia, Caligula’s mistress, and Margaret Thanos as Cherea is also excellent. Sarah Doyle as ancient softboi poet Scipio is suitably lyrical, and Campbell Taylor delivers necessary comic relief as the old patrician.
The set (designed by Emily Henderson) and lighting (designed by Alex Smiles) are dramatic and effective, centred around a long table, and particularly beautiful when the black and gold of the walls are washed with red light. The richness of the set is complemented by the costume design by Jake Parker and Jake Starr, which is replete with patterns, lace, and elaborate brooches. The makeup, by Dani Maher and Tess Williams, is colourful and intricate around the eyes. All up, the imagery is rich, exotic, and a little dark, setting the scene effectively for the story of absolute power gone wrong. Sound designer Henry Hulme and compose Laura Heuston have created an eerie soundtrack with simple piano and softer, echoing sound. This is complemented by the cast’s clever use of sound, with whistling, snarling, and even chewing noises.
Caligula is an intelligent and fascinating play which is well worth watching. It’s engaging, profound, and -- in places – funny. Camus’ absurdism and intellectual musings on power have life breathed into them by the cast and crew, whose acting, directorial, and design talents make their production thoroughly enjoyable. Cherea is absolutely right when he says, “there’s nothing petty about Caligula.”