Edinburgh Fringe 2022
A Weimar republic -infused new music and theater production by an energetic young company of musician/actors. Awarded a 2022 Untapped award to support the creation and production at Underbelly.
As the audience enters, we see a the company of actors in a representational tableaux of broken mechanical toys, all playing musical instruments, all contorted mid-performance. In the background German cabaret music from the 1920’s/1930’s plays. Welcome to the Chewboy production of “Caligari”; based on a famous silent film of the 1920’s Germany about a popular illusionist who visits towns with his right hand man leaving a trail of murder and confusion in his wake. Now considered a prescient political statement from Germany between two world-wars, the story predicts the rise of a powerful figure who wrecks havoc deploying his tormented servant, and is trusted by the naïve and unknowing populace.
And so this “Caligari” is a sort of stylized story-theater where the plot is enacted by the talented young company who burst into Kurt Weill-inspired interludes of music, and cabaret style dances. Somewhere between entertainment and a social justice lesson in the style of Bertold Brecht; the narrative is told with great commitment, heavily supported by music both sung and instrumental; played on an impressive array of cabaret instruments including violin, accordian and clarinet.
The performers are engaged and energetic, and the production is carefully constructed using all of the tools at hand. Particularly of note was the contorted and angular dance of death, a stylized chase scene of terror, and the general interweaving of silent film style acting. There were times that the actor’s over-wrought expressions of angst and horrror were taken directly from silent film performance. The acting varied in believability and skill; but the commitment of the company as a whole was laudable and the music engaging enough that I wished it was more fully developed into complete song interludes.
The Chewboy production of “Caligari” faithfully follows the film plot interspersed with moments of meta-theater, where the actors question their participation in this play and the very nature of performance. In a climactic moment an actor break out of the story and comments; “we don’t live outside of this story, do we”? The audience was engaged and supportive, and a young goth-dressed woman sitting next to me told me this was the second time she had come to this show- she thought it was really effective and she personally related to the style of the production. A music-infused re-telling of a modern classic about power and illusion; this is Exciting Work.