Shadow cabinet

In the subterranean gloom of Glasgow’s Arches Theatre, 21 new horror is set to stalk the terrified public. Andrew Dallmeyer and Andy Arnold offer Fiona Shepherd a spine-chilling glimpse into Caligari' s

cabinet of tricks.

he timing could not have been better: as cinema’s centenary year draws to a close, a theatrical adaptation of The Cabinet 0/ Doctor Caligari, that silent Classic of German Expressionist cinema, comes to The Arches, Glasgow. These timely coincidences are not part of some Zeitgeist- defining scheme, despite the recent runs oftwo English productions based on the film.

The Arches’ production is called simply Caligari. emphasising that it is a theatrical piece in its own right. rather than a homage to the film. However, its roots lie in the company’s spectacular and intriguing production of Metropolis. which was a faithful pastiche of its source material, the Fritz Lang

‘We’ve produced a lot of theatre in five years. Sometimes you build a mystique the less work you do, but personally I just like to be in a rehearsal room.’

sci-fi epic. There are parallels in both plots a deranged manipulator loses control of his own personal Frankenstein’s monster following the involvement of a beautiful girl, and where the theatrical Metropolis copied the Expressionist style. Caligari aims to evoke it.

Andrew Dallmeyer, who played the scientist in Metropolis and adapted Caligari, explains: ‘The best definition of Expressionism I’ve discovered is “the use of exaggeration or distortion to heighten emotional impact”, so 1 bore that very much in mind. [Caligari] is a very artificial film the sets are obviously sets. It seemed to me if there was going to be speaking in it, it should be stylised in nature. so I decided to do it in blank verse.

‘lt’s interesting how much you betray when you have to use speech, because a lot of the film is ambiguous. The first time I saw the film I didn’t have a clue what was going on and it was only when I’d seen it twice that I began to understand.‘

The story begins when a travelling fairground troupe comes to town and Caligari peddles his star attraction Cesare, the somnambule soothsayer. The horrific action unfolds when three friends visit the fair, unwittingly triggering a chain of events which leads eventually to a mental asylum.

Dallmeyer has tried to draw out the sleepwalking aspect, based on his research into the post-World War I period during which the film was made. Between 1917 and 1920 there were five millim people in Europe with

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sleeping sickness, so the idea of a somnambule would not have been that strange. At first it was thought to be connected with the war but they’ve subsequently discovered it was a virus. It was a very black time and I think the film reflects that. especially the mood of Germany after their defeat in the war.’

The Arches under Glasgow’s Central Station provides the ideal environment for exploiting this gloomy mood. The venue’s brick walls and exposed metal tubes enhanced the creation of a primitive industrial atmosphere for Metropolis; its draughty openness complemented the austere presbyterian mood of The Crucible. By setting Caligari in one arch. with the audience seated like spectators at the fair. director Andy Arnold hopes to use the space this time to create a sense of foreboding and anticipation.

‘I worked on the idea of doing Nosferatu,’ he says, ‘but that would have been a big visual piece like Metropolis again and l don’t want to repeat exercises. Caligari the film is very enclosed and theatrical. I want it to be more haunting than Metropolis, which sometimes dissipated the feeling of claustrophobia in

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moving the audience on. Setting this in its own dominating set will provide that chilling feeling.’

The set promises to be as artificial and angular as in the film. but the recorded music accompanying the play will be a journey into stereophonic sound created by the Slam team whose weekly club nights at The Arches have provided a vital subsidy to the running of the theatre’s largely unfunded work.

‘lt continues to be difficult.’ pontificatcs Arnold, looking back on nearly five years of productions, ‘but because there’s no restriction in terms of funding determining what we do, that gives us licence to do what we want. I’d hate to label our style but it's hopefully being inventive and energetic in everything we do and being populist in a way that’s not just doing straightforward, naturalistic plays.

‘We’ve produced a lot oftheatre in five years. Sometimes you build a mystique the less work you do, but personally I just like to be in a rehearsal room.’

Caligari is at The Arches, Glasgow, Waltzeda)‘ 22 November—Saturday 9 December

Mastermind: Andrew Dallmeyer ln Metropolis, which he also adapted