Amanda Dalton’s adaptation of the
classic 1919 film proved ideal material for radio. The combination of surrealism, music, impressionist imagery and the abrupt
shift in tone, from wild farce to tragedy worked extremely well in a production (by Susan Roberts) that combined acting, sound-effects
and suitably eerie music to create a post-1919 Germany where morality had quite simply broken down. No one trusted anyone
else; the watchword seemed to be to exploit people for personal gain, whatever the consequences.
Superficially the plot of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is straightforward enough; in a small German town several murders are committed and
the finger of suspicion points at the mysterious Caligari, who is believed to have interred all of his victims in a cabinet
buried deep in his house. As the action unfolds, it emerges that the eponymous Caligari does not exist; he remains a figment
of the citizens’ imagination, a convenient scapegoat for their suspicions. By this method Dalton captured the sense of paranoia in
post-war Germany. Although they had not
lost the War – despite signing the Armistice in 1918 – the people still blamed one another for their presumed
‘failure.’ Dr. Caligari was not a real person, but functioned as an object for people’s feelings of resentment
and fear for their future. Such emotions were not without justification, as Germany
entered a period of economic meltdown with inflation running rampant.
Radio 3’s scheduling of this production
proved uncannily appropriate: currently Western Europe is experiencing a similar period of
economic crisis, with falling share prices and rising unemployment. In this kind of environment, it is highly likely that
people will search for another Dr. Caligari as a scapegoat for their anxieties.