Caligula as a monster of absurdity

Source:Global Times Published: 2010-6-10 11:25:47

Kreibich Mirco as Caligula in the upcoming play by the Thalia Theater. Photos: Courtesy of Shanghai Drama Art Center

By Hu Bei

Caligula, the third Roman emperor, is synonymous with depravity, cruelty and insanity, but Shanghai audiences will see a totally new side to the tyrant with Albert Camus' Caligula, the play's premiere in China.

From today until June 13, the Thalia Theater from Germany will present a German modern-dress version of Caligula with Chinese subtitles.

Camus, a famous existentialist, regards life as absurd and embraces a realistic view of life and the absence of universal logic. For Camus, absurdity is the true nature of existence.

Caligula, written in 1938, along with two other works, the novel L'Etranger (The Stranger) and the essay Le Mythe de Sisyphe (The Myth of Sisyphus), are commonly described as Camus' "Cycle of the Absurd."

Using the Roman autocrat as a prototype, Camus' Caligula is not simply a monstrous psychopath, but in the world of the untenable, he is a tangible "hero" who sticks to the absolute emptiness of life.

Confident in the fact that life has no meaning after the death of Drusilla, his sister and lover, Caligula declares himself a god and acts without logic to exact revenge on the absurd universe by way of ruthless massacres, lechery and downright madness. The mad emperor, himself also rejects friendship, love and human solidarity.

"This is happiness: this intolerable release, this universal contempt, blood, hatred all around me, the unique isolation of the man who all his life knows the boundless joy of the unpunished killer," Camus' Caligula gleefully decrees, a character who deliberately orchestrates his own assassination.

The play had its French debut in 1945 with legendary actor Gérard Philipe, and later made its way into English, Greek, Hindi and Japanese, successively.

"Caligula is a thought-provoking play about the questions of the limits of power. The Roman emperor, who is recorded as evil by historians, is seen in a very different way by Camus," said Jette Steckel, the director of the upcoming performance.

"What does power mean if you can't hold the moon in your hands?"

Although it is his first time directing this play, Steckel said that he does not add much to the original work. "I will just let the audience really take part in the performance. In my opinion, the audience should be the senators and other noblemen that Caligula is fighting with," he said.


Kreibich Mirco

Before Caligula, Steckel also directed Les Justes (The Just Assassins), another Camus masterpiece based on the assassination of the Grand Duke Sergei Romanov by a group of Russian socialist revolutionaries in 1905.

Kreibich Mirco, a young actor from the Thalia Theater, will play the role of Caligula.

"Camus is an author who loves to think things through to their very end. That is what I like most," he said.

Mirco compared Caligula's power to "a human earthquake" and described Camus' take on Caligula as "radical."

"I will try to play him as a scornful youth who scorns tradition. In Caligula's case, as Camus sees him, it is not a rebellion against power, but a rebellion from a person in power," Mirco told the Global Times.

"In modern times, it can be regarded as a kind of rebellion against society, very common among the younger generation."

Camus' own notebooks shed some light on the heart of the play. "Caligula is not dead. He is here, he is there. He is each of you. If the power were given to you, if you had a heart, if you loved life, you would see unleashed this monster or this angel that you carry within you."

Founded in 1843, the Thalia Theater is one of the oldest theaters in Germany and is based in Hamburg, a venue that has played host to some of the greatest playwrights over the past century.

Date: From today until June 13, 7:30 pm

Venue: Shanghai Drama Art Center 上海话剧艺术中心

Address: 288 Anfu Road


Tickets: 120 to 200 yuan

Call 6473-0123 for details

Posted in: ARTS

blog comments powered by Disqus