16 March 2013

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari at the Arcola Theatre

One of the things I find charming about the Arcola Theatre is that it is always changing and is different every time that I go.

It has been going through substantial renovation most of which has finished since my last visit there. The most obvious result of this is the large bright bar area on the ground floor. Studio 2 may have changed too but as the route down to it has changed it was hard for me to tell.

Inside the theatre there was an obvious difference with  the seating arrangements. Previously there had been two sets of around eight rows of Meccano style seats either side of the stage and this time there were just three or four rows raked less steeply and arrange on three sides of the stage. The end result is probably more intimate overall but as I am almost always in the front row that makes little difference to me.

I had heard of the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari but had not read, or had forgotten, the story so, also as usual, my expectations were not constrained by any prejudices.

The story, and it's a real story, concerns mania, murder, mystery, mistakes and magic. A fair arrives in town where it attracts a well-to-do engaged couple and a hapless young man who is in love with the lady.

They go to see a mysterious man who is permanently asleep and in this state can perform acts of seemingly magic. One of his tricks was to write down on a blackboard what is going to happen next, much as Derren Brown does. When asked by the wealthy young man when he was going to die he reveals the message that he will be dead by dawn. Interesting things then happen.

Telling the story is a mixed troop of actors and musicians who each play multiple roles in the production. Music features heavily, as it should in a show about a fair. The cabinet was almost the sole prop used, and was the only one needed. Simple is often best and it certainly was here.

The production was warm and engaging, despite the story matter, and the show was an utter delight. A telling observation was the number of people humming the main refrain to themselves after the show. I even heard it when walking down the street a little while later.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was exactly the sort of theatre that I enjoy the most and the Arcola is exactly the sort of theatre that I like going to the most. It was a perfect afternoon.

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