WhatsOnStage Logo
Home link

Caligari at Underbelly Cowgate – Edinburgh Fringe review

The award-winning show plays in Edinburgh

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

© Danny Kaan

The Untapped Award, created by Underbelly with London's New Diorama Theatre, is one of the most significant funding opportunities for emerging companies – giving them a platform to excel and interrogate their own working practices, while also providing the security of knowing that well-informed audiences have already put the winners on their must-see lists. The results have included the awe-inspiring Breach show It's True It's True It's True and Poltergeist's Art Heist.

So it has to be emphasised that ChewBoy Productions' stage twist on cinematic institution The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, released as a silent movie in 1920, shows that this is a company worth keeping an eye on. Here, the plot of that film is re-traced – telling the story of a hypnotist, who, manipulating the mind of a somnambulist, oversees an array of grim murders in a German town, disrupting the lives of those affected by the grizzly deaths.

But the company's talents, from the musical to the comedic, are wasted in what is largely a scrappy re-examination of the Caligari myth. The pace feels sluggish even as the characterisation feels thin, and the meta-narrative about the possible futility of re-playing the same tale while letting the man's victims slip into obscurity feels lightweight and unoriginal.

What the production sorely needs is more stringent direction – culling any excesses and allowing the musical aspects to feel less extraneous and more intimately woven into the plot.

Flashes of creativity shine on an uninspiringly designed and lit stage. One physical sequence, where a brutal encounter blends physical movement with jerky, out-of-tune string accompaniment, is excellent. If the company can find the right material, they will have a sure-fire hit to follow – though this isn't it.

Read all of our Edinburgh Fringe coverage