Caligula and the Sea – VAULT Festival, London

Reviewer: Adam Stevenson

Writer: Jacey Casel

Director: Yuxuan Liu

Caligula and the Sea is a dreamy fable that explores the corruptibility of man and the indifference of the Gods.

Caligula may have a reputation for sex and violence but when we are introduced to him as a young man on the island of Capri, he’s something of a nebbish. He’s physically weak and mopes about. His days are enlivened by Cassius Chaerea who cheers him up, plays silly games and flirts. Their antics are watched by Neptune, who takes a particular interest in Emperors but is getting tired of Tiberius. The God of the sea proposes an alliance with Caligula, setting him on a path that can only end one way.

This is a beautiful production. A wall of coloured silk, representing the sea, is used in many ways, waving and billowing as expected but also carries prop boats and births characters out of it. A number of times these waves are backlit and strange creatures and monsters cast shadows through it. Noah Silverstone (who plays Caligula) also does a wonderful job creating a seagull puppet, with which Neptune views their dominions, and an eel, one of the forms Neptune takes. Riko Nakazono as Neptune wields this eel in an intimidating fashion, whirling it in figure eights and mixing sinewy movement with sudden, jerking actions.

The lighting by Aaron J Dootson is also very striking, bathing the misty atmosphere of the Vaults with blues and then picking out actions and moments in bright white. There’s one moment where Caligula stands on a pillar, denouncing traitors where his top half is a glowing, angelic white and his bottom a pool of red.

The script develops its three characters well, with Nakazono’s Neptune being a commanding presence but also hiding a twinkle of a smile. Neptune enjoys playing with humans, likes them for the entertainment they give but has no feelings beyond that. Felix Ryder as Cassius projects a companionable warmth that turns to despair, whilst Silverstone’s Caligula has an affectingly pathetic quality no matter the power he gains. The performances are formalised, with a slightly stagey quality. This fits in with the notion of tragedy the play is working with but undercuts some of the lighter moments.

Caligula and the Sea offers a tight story, clear characterisation and some lovely visuals.

Runs until 5 March 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

Beautiful staging and a good story.

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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