Theatre-Works-Burning-House-Caligula-photo-by-Jack-Dixon-GunnBurning House’s Caligula, much like the Emperor himself, had lofty ambitions to reach for the moon but sadly this work didn’t quite land among the stars.

Rome is in turmoil, the Emperor has decided to govern upon their whims and has challenged his government, and the people, to fall in line or face death, or worse.

Suffering from madness, or cunning clarity, Caligula does all they can to disturb and disrupt the Empire, pushing his subjects to their limits and testing the depraved depths of his demands.

There is a lot happening in this work and unfortunately at a pace that is difficult to engage with – crashing through the story with such high and unbridled energy that it creates a disjointment with the text.

This adaptation struggles to find its rhythm, oscillating chaotically between poetic, politically intriguing and woefully verbose and does not make it easy for the ensemble to find their way around.

The ensemble attacks the script with varying levels of success, at times delivering performances that feel as if they are each in their own version of the play.

Often inarticulate and lacking in projection, the ensemble do well to navigate the world of the text considering the distinct lack of direction and alienating shifts in style.

Robert Johnson’s direction is heavily stylistic but does little to unify the work with any cohesion. Johnson seemed content to keep the audience at arms length, disconnecting the story and works and at times, leaving little to draw the attention.

A smattering of brilliant artistic choices lifted the work in the second act, with glimmers of a much more focused and exciting production shining through.

The set by Riley Trapp and lighting by Tim Bonser make an exquisite and luscious combo, elevating the production and giving the audience a feast for the eyes.

Caligula may falter at times but there is a lot of potential at it’s core and a compelling story that could really become something rather exciting.

Theatre Works, 14 Acland Street, St Kilda
Performance: Thursday 14 July 2022
Season continues to 23 July 2022
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Image: Burning House presents Caligula – photo by Jack Dixon-Gunn

Review: Gavin Roach