Home / Drama / The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari – Arcola Theatre, London

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari – Arcola Theatre, London

Writer: Sebastian Armesto and Dudley Hinton

Director: Sebastian Armesto and Dudley Hinton

Reviewer: Kate Klatsken


In this modern adaptation of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Simple8 bring their own version of the 1920 silent horror film to life. The original screenplay by Hans Jonowitz and Carl Mayer directed by Robert Weine focused on low budget film making and used stylised sets and painted backdrops. Which makes this an apt choice for Simple8, an environmentally conscious theatre ensemble who use minimal set, often creating props from reclaimed materials; they seek to share simple stories, simply told.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari follows the story of Francis Gruber and the fairground troupe who visit the small German town of Holstenwall. The circus troupe roll into town and announce that they will be “spinning dreams into reality and order into chaos” as they invite you to go behind the sheet, enter the tent and discover your destiny. We’re drawn into another time, where the usual fairground attractions such as ‘bulls eye’ and ‘hit the jackpot’ are ingeniously recreated by the ensemble. The star attraction is undoubtedly the Somnambulist (Christopher Doyle), a fortune telling prisoner of Dr. Caligari who lives in a coffin like cabinet and prophesises peoples death in his sleep.

The show starts on a high with an injection of fun and live music which create the feel of a vibrant fairground. There is a high caliber of musicians here including actor/musician David Brett who once belonged to the Flying Pickets.

The troupe bring promise and excitement to the townsfolk until things take a dark turn and two members of high society are mysteriously found strangled in their beds.

Oliver Birch is well cast as Dr. Caligari and brings with him a measured meditative tempo and a steely glaze befitting of a psychopath. Sophie Roberts gives a routed and flawless performance as Jane, but this is truly an ensemble piece and the performances are solid and engaging with no weak links.

The characters and inventive storytelling are the main attraction as the story at times fails to captivate and the frenetic atmosphere that we enjoy at the beginning slows down from middle to end and makes you wonder if the whole town have received a dose of Dr. Caligari’s sleep inducing injection as the unfolding of the story is a little drawn out.

Well written, laced with humour and with some impressive percussive soundscapes and perfectly pitched fairground music played live by the multi-talented ensemble, if this is cranked up a notch towards the end this will be an almost perfect show and a fine example of storytelling.

Photo: Idil Sukan

Runs until 16th March

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One comment

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    stephen butterfield

    what a trully amazing experience.i loved this style of theatre all the actors had great character and drew the audience in immediately….proper good