EdFringe 2022 Review: Caligari

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari has a reputation as one of the defining pieces of German expressionist cinema which utilised deep gothic shadows, impossible sets, and a distorted sense of reality. These elements are infused in ChewBoy Productions’ impressive musical version the story of Caligari which takes residence in Underbelly’s Cowgate venue.

Georgie Bailey writes Caligari as it repositions the focus from the titular character to his victims, Francis, Jane and Alan, as they try to stop an insane hypnotist who uses a sleepwalking creature to commit murders.

Directed by Lucy Betts, Caligari creates a gothic surrealism in all from its lighting, staging, costuming, and set design. Lit with broad dark strokes and pockets of light which highlights the warped centrepiece – a slanted cabinet locked with bolts and chains – ChewBoy Productions transport us to 1920s Weimar Germany. The cast are adorned in grey outfits, which atop the harsh lighting strokes used in the production, conjures up a visual akin to the 20s cinematic classic.

Yet despite this darkness and the crafting of an expressionist aesthetic, Caligari is able to fuse moments of darkness with more slapstick centred levity. Well-pitched comic notes from the cast bring a welcome silliness – small touches such as line delivery from newspaper salesman to police officers frantically running around with kazoos creates an air of lightness with ensures that Caligari is not a morose piece. Of course, this is a play centred on murder, manipulation and abuse of power and based on a cult German horror film, so a large degree of darkness is inevitable nonetheles. Caligari captures the horror of the narrative with a steely coldness as our trio of intrepid heroes are slowly picked-off by the titular villain and his somnambulist. Pairing scenes of horror with atmospheric music cues also provided by the cast adds a further tension to these moments.

The narrative of Caligari reimagines the film providing some adaptions that allow it to take on a number of meta detours. Capturing the idea of the piece’s cast being caught in an endless loop of the story of Caligari makes interesting musings about the continual abuses of power that continue to play a part in modern society, whilst discussing humanity’s subconscious need for a tyrant. These inventive shifts such as actors unwilling to proceed with the narrative as they are expected to do, adds a further sense of depth and darkness to the fold.

Praise should go to the impressive five member cast who present their take on this cold piece of twenties expressionism with a sense of heart and conviction – successfully investing us in the stories of previously throwaway characters. Their skills in interspersing original music into the piece also further transport us into the story and setting of Weimar Germany.

Caligari impressively blends tones of brooding unease with a welcome sense of levity and musicality, transporting us into a moody expressionist world filled with unsettlingly ghoulish parallels to our contemporary society.

Caligari plays as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe at the Underbelly Cowgate. You can get tickets here.

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