We met up with Fabien and Erik for supper at Quo Vadis in Soho and then walked over to the Donmar Warehouse to see Caligula with Michael Sheen in the title role of David Grieg's new translation of Camus' play. The Donmar is one of my favourite London spaces and the challenge of Camus on a Saturday evening was one I had eagerly anticipated.
Caligula is mad, sadistic and bent on negation of Rome, his acolytes and himself. He descends from a pathetic sorrow, wandering in the woods after his sister's death, to a spiralling orgy of destruction and killing that leads inexorably to his own assassination. Caligula's fate, his self-abnegation, his despair is orchestrated knowingly, each step in exercising absolute power is a new experiment pushing the bounds of humiliation of his courtiers.
Sheen gave a thrilling, visceral performance which dominated the stage, the theatre and, unfortunately, the other actors, who were forced to stand by, mouthing in awe and flinching before the foaming tyrant.
According to the translator's note, Camus wrote the play against the background of the invasion of France in 1940 and his own life's agonies. Caligula reflects those times of clashing ideologies, violence and deep personal despair... he writes that, as we live in comparable times in 2003.. "Camus' Caligula speaks directly to us - forcing us to face the question of how best we live, in the face of what we know".
The "absurd" is a theatre wallowing in meaninglessness, a random universe with no purpose, our lives end only in death - Caligula says "we die and we are unhappy" - so he seeks to exact happiness in the exercise of his tyranny.
On the train from King's Cross, I listened to the chatter of the people around me. Meaningless, futile and random.
Posted by nathan at June 8, 2003 05:41 AM
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