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Caligula – London Coliseum, London

Music: Detlev Glanert

Director: Benedict Andrews

Reviewer: Louise Thompson


Caligula is based on Albert Camus’ response to the rise of Hitler and Stalin. Set in a football stadium, we see the rise and fall of a dictator, the madness behind it and the destruction that he leaves in his wake.

Caligula (played by Peter Coleman-Wright) loses his sister and lover. He suddenly finds his world turning upside down and resorts to persecuting his people, murdering sporadically and demanding that all of their wealth comes straight back to him. His wife Caesonia, played by Yvonne Howard, supports him in this alongside his servant Helicon (Christopher Ainslie). Of course, this can not go on forever and the people closest to Caligula eventually come together and plot to kill him.

Coleman-Wright plays the part of Caligula with a huge amount of energy and passion, leaving everyone, other than Howard, behind. He constantly demands the audience’s attention even when he is not in sight and brings the stage to life. Yvonne Howard’s portrayal of the doting and forgiving wife is equally as strong. Her dedication to her husband is almost sinister and by the end I was left wondering who I disliked more. Was there an element of Lady Macbeth in her or did her love for Caligula cloud her judgement?

Benedict Andrews works very hard to utilise the set, props are kept to a minimum and the use of the raked seating of the stadium, lends itself well to the representation of status. It is also an effective way of ensuring the audience can see absolutely everything that is happening on stage. The music written by Detlev Glanert and conducted by Ryan Wigglesworth is emotive and powerful. However, it was discordant and by the end of act one, I found myself craving a bit of simplicity.

The piece really was a sensory overload and didn’t let up for even a moment. It is a fast paced opera that doesn’t give you much time to think. I feel that Andrews did this intentionally, taking you on the same mad journey that Caligula himself goes on. Despite this however, I came away feeling mildly depressed. To be completely honest, this was not my cup of tea at all, but I do appreciate the attempts made by Glanert and Andrews to draw you into the world of Caligula. This is not an opera that many will be able to say that they enjoyed as such, but do not let this put you off as it is undoubtedly one of the most unique pieces of work that I have ever seen.

Photo: Johan Persson

Runs until 14th June

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