Red Phoenix Theatre is a company which specialises in Adelaide premieres. Its latest show is Camus’ Caligula which opens tonight and runs until 2 June at the lovely Holden Street Theatres.
Here is the definition of “Adelaide Premiere” taken from the Taken from the Red Phoenix Theatre website:
For a play to be considered an Adelaide Premiere it will fall into one of the following categories:
(a) The text has never received a live stage performance of any form in Adelaide.
(b) The text has been performed in Adelaide as a radio play, a film, or as a reading but not as a fully staged production.
(c) The text has been performed in Adelaide as part of a school or university program, but not as a fully staged, ticketed and public production by a recognised theatre company.
(d) The text is an adaptation or translation which is so significantly different from previously performed versions that it represents a new experience for Adelaide audiences.
I spoke with Michael Eustice, Artistic Director of Red Phoenix Theatre and the director of this production of Caligula earlier this week.
Which is of the 4 arms of the definition of “première” does Caligula fall into?
To the best of my knowledge, Camus’ Caligula has only ever been performed in South Australia as a radio play.
I’ve done quite a bit of research on this. Certainly David Greig’s translation/adaptation has never been done here before. My research hasn’t yielded any other versions of the Camus here, which I was very surprised by. It’s one of his most famous plays and a wonderful text. I think that this new translation is a bit fresher, more contemporary. The translation of the previous version was a tad more clunky but it still had enormous success around the world over several decades so to find it hadn’t been done here was a surprise, and an excitement!
The Greig translation is only fairly recent?
I saw the world premiere of it in 2003 at the Donmar Warehouse in London. Michael Sheen was in the lead. It was just fantastic. He is such a fine actor and it was a very well done production and from that moment I was in love with that translation although I’ve wanted to do this play for nearly 30 years but just never had the cast, nor the opportunity, or a theatre company who loved it as much as I did.
Why perform Caligula?
Well accepting the fact that it is a wonderfully, beautifully written play with a great philosophical bent and a very playful script with history back into the early stages of theatre of the absurd – that I’ve always loved it for. But I think that we, politically and socially, it has this strong contemporary relevance and certainly we’ve been finding that through the rehearsal process. When Camus started to write the play, and he wrote it over a period of about six years, over the Second World War, he was living through the times of Hitler and Mussolini and arguably when we look around the world now and we see the likes of Kim Jong-Un, Donald Trump and – we see all these arguably mad men, not just bad people whose politics we disagree with but people who seem fundamentally –from what we would view as a balanced person, at best off kilter.
That’s probably putting it nicely!
It is I think! Again, we are at a time where we talk about what’s happening between Trump and Putin and Kim Jong-Un are things that could be leading us into a third world war and that is exactly the situation Camus was in when he started writing the play in 1938 I think it was. 38 or 39 and he rewrote it a number of times throughout the second World War, changing it and shifting it so I think his reference back to – it is just a relevant – is to try to create a historical reference that we didn’t have any real emotional subjectivity towards to help us create an objective view of our contemporary world. So he has gone back to arguably the maddest Roman Emperor of all – not necessarily the most evil, but certainly references to maddest and craziest and most dangerous – with I think an endeavour to say if we can understand this man then that will help us to understand our own mad men and then hopefully overcome them.
What can audiences expect?
They can expect it to be nothing like the film! I’ve had a few people say “I don’t know if I want to go along and see all that nudity”. I said “well I don’t have any nudity”. To me this is a social-political play and I am not hiding away from that. It is a very philosophical play. It is trying to understand the way we live our lives and how as a community we need to work together to overcome those who oppress us. At the same time, it is richly poetic because of Camus’ extraordinary writing skills and within that there are just these delightful humour. I was sitting there last night and the cast said to me “I hope you’re in the audience each night, Martin”. I was just laughing so much. I hope that’s not just me that finds it funny! That would be embarrassing.
Is it quite violent? Isn’t he imagining the end?
Camus refers to this as a suicide that Caligula is actually committing suicide. Yes there are moments of violence and we have staged moments of violence but it’s not bloody, gratuitous violence. Some of it is quite gentle violence if there is such a thing. Violence through love. Then as you would expect because of the nature of the play, there is a very violent ending that I have changed the way it is traditionally done because I didn’t think it would work in the small environment where we had lots of stabbing and stage blood where the audience is close. And it would look a bit tacky because we can only use stage knives and the only knives that we can get that are safe to use are made of cheap plastic so we’d get “click, click, click, click” and I thought no, it has to be brutal. It has to shock the audience to some degree even though they are complicit by this stage in this violence. That’s why you up it a bit, so the audience, while they go into the violence complicit, they come out of it with shock.
Not for the faint hearted then?
It’s nothing you’d see in a Hollywood movie. However, stage violence is always much more horrific than film violence because there are real people in front of you. Even when you know they aren’t actually been hit in the face, it feels like they are and it’s more shocking.
Does this have an age limit?
I haven’t put an age limit on it because we rarely get anyone under 15 at these shows and anyone who is bringing children will ask. The physical violence, there are some references to some sexual violence but that happens off-stage.
Will the audience recognise anyone in the cast?
Anyone who has seen a Red Phoenix show will!
You have your regular performers?
Yes. While we are a new company this is our sixth show and a couple of the actors have been in a number of those shows. We have a number of professional actors in our cast as well. Whilst we are a community theatre company, we operate like what I call a half-way theatre company, a place where professional actors who are between work can come and work on a play and know that the people they are working with are going to be worthy of working with and it is still a stretch for them creatively. Generally our productions have about 50% of the cast that are professionals or retired professional artists or people who are along that journey. The others are generally seasoned, quite capable actors. Occasionally we get a young gun, which we have in this production and who I think is doing an excellent job – young Mark who is playing the role of the young poet.
What’s the running time?
2 hours and 10 plus interval. It starts at 7:30 and finishes at 10. The bar will be open an hour before and an hour after the show so if you want to talk to the cast, you’re welcome to.
And you’ve got a sold out first night?
Yes. Full house. Full as a boot, which is wonderful!
Dates and Times
24 – 26 May 7:30pm
27 May 2:00pm
30 May – 2 June 7:30pm
Prices: $17.25 (concession) – $23.25 (adult)
Tickets and more info available here.