For this stage adaptation, ambitious ensemble Simple8 has borrowed only the barest threads of Robert Wiene’s expressionist 1920 cinema classic: Caligari and his mute somnambulist; the smitten Franzis; the blurring of reality and hallucination. The rest, however, has been boldly reimagined.
Franzis is now a love-struck clerk in a miserable Town Hall office, pining for the fiancée of wealthy industrialist Otto, ‘the button king of Germany’. Their visit to ominous mountebank Dr Caligari at a macabre fair leaves the hapless Franzis accused of two brutal murders that he fears he may have committed in his sleep. The madhouse themes of the original have been aptly replaced with the lunacy of small-town government.
The adaptation, by directors Sebastian Armesto and Dudley Hinton, is brash and irreverent, full of witty one-liners and surreal turns of phrase. There are standout performances from Joseph Kloska as Franzis and Christopher Doyle as both somnambulist Cesare and ‘father of the fair’ Hermann, but the entire cast impresses, and they perform a klezmer-inflected live score that complements the tatty penny-gaffe visuals.
If there’s such a thing as a ‘Caligari’ purist, this may not be their bag, for everyone else it’s an irresistibly fun interpretation: a haunted accordion of a show that sways and wheezes with its own demented energy. Stewart Pringle