The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari at Arcola

Simple 8 tackles the classic silent film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari as part of their season at the Arcola Theatre in Dalston. The internet claims that the ’20s German horror film was the first to introduce a twist ending and if you are, like me, unversed in the silent film genre: it only adds an extra treat to Simple 8’s adaptation.

The ensemble theatre specialises in big ideas on a shoe-string budget and found similarities in this film, which was made during the ’20s foreign film ban in Germany. Producers and directors used simple set-ups and cheap decors and expressionism in film was born. The story is also still very apt for our times: originally written in a time of uncertainty, the ’30s Great Depression was only around the corner, it asks the question what scared people under pressure are willing to do.

The fair arrives in the sleepy town of Holstenwall, where mousy Franzis Gruber works as  a clerk for the Mayor’s office. The poor man is bullied by his colleague Hirst and his love interest Jane is going out with his old school rival Otto. He bumps into the couple at the fair and together they visit the strange show of Dr Caligari, to see the somnambular (sleepwalker) Cesare. This boy fully functions and predicts future events in his sleep.  The fun is suddenly ended when Cesare predicts Otto will be dead by dawn. The next day first Hirst and Otto are found dead, Franzis is a suspect while he tries to discover what his life-like nightmares have been all about.

Simple 8 brings a wonderfully creative show, its simplicity complementing the strange storyline. It chooses shadow play and live music over projections and complicated sound effects: an early scene where the actors are pretending to be the filing cabinet is just a stroke of genius. Similar ideas are implemented in personifying the fair and the town’s clock.

The competent cast change easily between roles and Christopher Doyle’s switch between the outgoing fairground father and silent Cesare is mention worthy as is Joseph Kloska’s performance as the hapless Franzis.  Throughout the whole ensemble works smoothly together and scenery transactions are well directed by Sebastian Armesto and Dudley Hinton to run efficiently to rhythm and music.

The alternative staging luckily does not make this production avant-garde (read:arty-farty) it is very entertaining and the script is witty and clever. The cosy black box of the Arcola is perfect to feel included in the fair performances too.  Nothing but praise then for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari: a true showcase of the strengths and beauty of live theatre. So roll up, roll up and see the fair!

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari is performed until Saturday 16 March at:

Arcola Theatre
24 Ashwin Street
Dalston, London
E8 3DL

Box Office: 020 7503 1646

Image by Idil Sukan 

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