The Theatre and the Plague

Thessaloniki Concert Hall, in collaboration with Athens’ Piraeus Municipal Theatre, brings to town a redeeming breath of fresh air, giving free rein to Aliki Danezi-Knutsen and her surprisingly cogent Caligula, a lucid explanation of the absurdity of logic and its son: power.



In un’epoca vessata dalle differenze, Aliki Danezi-Knutsen sceglie di riprendere in mano il Caligola di Albert Camus, sperando che con la sua regia cifrata e gravida di simboli volti a sottolineare ciò che lo scrittore francese già aveva esternato con il suo linguaggio di fuoco, riusciamo finalmente a ribellarci alla legge paterna e a strabordare nei confini dell’altro, accettando «il dono dell’equivalenza» portoci dal lucido imperatore sanguinario.



Σε μια εποχή κατάμεστη διαφοροποιήσεων, η Αλίκη Δανέζη-Knutsen διάλεξε να διεκδικήσει εκ νέου τον Καλιγούλα του Αλμπέρτ Καμί, ευελπιστώντας ότι με την κρυπτογραφημένη σκηνοθεσία της, γεμάτη σύμβολα που υπογραμμίζουν το νόημα που εκφράζεται μέσα απο την πυρωμένη γλώσσα του γάλλου συγγραφέα, θα μπορούσαμε, επιτέλους, να επαναστατίσουμε ενάντια στην πατριαρχία και να ξεπεράσουμε τα όρια του άλλου, αποδέχοντας “το δώρο της ισότητας” απο τον διαυγή, αιμοδιψή αυτοκράτορα.



The plot of Albert Camus’ Caligula is well known: «Caligula, a relatively kind prince so far, realizes on the death of Drusilla, his sister and his mistress, that “men die and they are not happy.” Therefore, obsessed by the quest for the Absolute and poisoned by contempt and horror, he tries to exercise, through murder and systematic perversion of all values, a freedom which he discovers in the end to be no good». Written in 1938 and tinkered with until 1946, this play was never meant to be concerned with the dangers of extreme politics nor is it a condemnation of dictatorship, despite all the time-related interpretations attached to it. What Camus wanted to tackle, here, was the Absurd, that part of the human condition which bursts forth every time somebody asks the jolting question: why?

With her latest production, Aliki Danezi-Knutsen proves to possess sharp reading skills and a plethora of insightful stage solutions which, merged together with the right cast, give life to a concoction of pertinent additions that extol the text even more. What we see under the spotlights, thus, is the product of a careful analysis of Camus’ work, flanked by a few poetic licences no one would bother to argue with. The layers of ivy, wooden boardwalks and geometric vanishing points reflect the human efforts to make sense of our own condition, and how hard it is to be logical once we suddenly lack the power to make use of the artifice of arbitrariness. The quest for authentic, transcendent values, then, is the true core of this play of the Absurd, and Camus feeds us some tips to understand how Caligula’s apparent madness is, in the end, nothing but a failed attempt to change the world.

What the emperor does, and what echoes in every choice made by the director, then, is to play by the rules of a tyrannical totalitarian regime on the one hand, and, at the same time, to denounce to his own subjects (through the artifice of theatre) the grotesque obscenity of power, its misery and lowness, together with the cowardly compromise of those who subordinate themselves to that very same power. This anarchic Caesar does not wage wars, but wishes to hold the moon in his hand, that is, to make art and poetry come to life, and ultimately to attain true freedom. In his attempt to deny himself, though, he fails to deny his original sin (i.e. being an emperor), thus getting terribly, Artaudianly, sick: «The theatre, like the plague, […] releases conflicts, disengages powers, liberates possibilities, and if these possibilities and these powers are dark, it is the fault not of the plague nor of the theatre, but of life».

The best example of this game of laying one’s cards on the table to unmask the truth can be found in the sleek dodecahedral throne from which Caligula cries and screams his desperate orders. As a matter of fact, this temple of logic and Manichean morality is violated by the emperor’s acceptance of meaninglessness and his light-hearted overthrowing of all certainties. As Cherea himself says: «Still, there’s no denying it’s remarkable, the effect this man has on all with whom he comes in contact. He forces one to think. There’s nothing like insecurity for stimulating the brain. That, of course, is why he’s so much hated». It’s worth noticing that in Camus’ works, the Absurd is never the end, and always a starting point.

And it is the possibilities of the Absurd that Aliki Danezi-Knutsen seeks to stress in her own Caligula. To do so, she combines her logic-laden imagery (with her witty set square-like daggers) with merrily anachronistic music (besides Tuxedomoon’s Blaine Reininger splendid collaboration), having Casonia and her lover sing Catullo’s Odi et amo, imposing her ideas on the play, but within a critical limit that never invalidate her choices. As a matter of fact, her fascination with quotes simply highlights the play’s timelessness, proving that the message did not die with the “end” of totalitarianisms. Indeed, the true problem was never the presence of personalities like Caligula’s in our world, but the fact that the world itself, sick with nihilism, shaped the empty shell of a Head (the emperor) around which everything must be organized. Moreover, Camus’ play can be deemed more topical than ever because now that the era of great individuals has ended, the power is headless and pervasive; a pure technical monstrosity that celebrates its bare will of authority by virally spreading among us. Our rage should then be addressed toward the machine, and not the damned man, whose sufferings are nothing but a dream within our nightmare. He is, after all, «still alive».

The show was played in
Thessaloniki Concert Hall
25 Martiou & Paralia – Thessaloniki
from 21 to 23 April 2017
Friday, Saturday, Sunday, 21.00

The Piraeus Municipal Theatre presents
Caligula – Καλιγούλας
by Albert Camus

translator Françoise Arvaniti
director Aliki Danezi-Knutsen
set designer Paris Mexis
costume designer Marina Chatzilouka
lighting Alekos Giannaros
music Blaine Reininger
movement Nikos Dragonas
assistant airector Venia Stamatiadi
producer Stefi Theaterworks
cast Yiannis Stankoglou, Stella Fyrogeni, Kostas Arzoglou, Ieronymos Kaletsanos, Michalis Afolanio, Aristotelis Aposkitis, Charis Emmanuel, Dimitris Liolios, Stratos Sopylis, Kostas Laskos, Dimitris Kitsos.
original music live on stage by Blaine Reininger of Tuxedomoon


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