PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 January, 2009, 12:00am

Hong Kong Repertory Theatre

HK City Hall Theatre

From Jan 3 to 19

Stage director Anthony Chan Kam-kuen regards Albert Camus' nihilistic piece Caligula as a philosophical and poetic exploration of men's inner conflicts.

'The play poses a big challenge for the actors and director,' says the artistic director of the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre.

'How to convey that sense of violence on stage without turning off the audience and to communicate the aesthetics of sexual desire without being vulgar ... requires both experience and professionalism.'

Running from Saturday to January 19, the production will feature a cast of 20, with Sun Wai-keung in the title role, Yau Ting-fai, Rosa Maria Velasco and an original score by Chan Wing-wah.

Written in 1938, reworked during the second world war and first performed in 1945, the piece reflected Camus' horror at the excesses of Europe's dictators.

The play begins when the emperor is stricken with grief after the death of his sister and lover Drusilla. Feeling life is meaningless, the tyrant sets out to make other people's lives just as meaningless and hellish.

Director Chan says the notoriously bloody drama Caligula has existentialist undertones but it remains accessible to all.

'The themes in the play are universal. Although it's set in Roman times, our focus is on the characters' feelings - their impulsive and explosive desires - so the drama could have taken place at any time, anywhere.'

Dramaturg Lin Kehuan says Camus' play is as relevant today as it was in post-war Europe. 'Camus objected to all kinds of violence ... The French philosopher believed all conflict could be resolved morally. But in reality, that is impossible,' the Beijing-based artist says.

'At a time when our world is being ravaged by terrorism, this play provides food for thought for all of us.'

In Cantonese with Chinese and English surtitles. Jan 3-4, Jan 6-11, Jan 13-19, 7.45pm, also Jan 4, 10, 17, 2.45pm, HK City Hall Theatre, 5 Edinburgh Place, Central, HK$120-HK$240 Urbtix. Inquiries: 3103 5900