Guest blog: Making sense of IDIOTS

Dear reader, My name is Jonnie Bayfield and what follows is the nutshelled process of Caligula’s Alibi and their process of making a show out of an old book, with little money or time. I hope you enjoy it.

Most people’s view on Dostoevsky is that he is long and boring, his work not his being, which was closer to stout and fiery. They couldn’t be further from the truth; the novels delve deep into the moral complexities of human kind, they explore good and evil along with the frailties of the ruling class.

I read the The Idiot as a younger man and, following my completion of it, had to go and stand in a dark airing cupboard to process my thoughts. As with all good art, it transcended time. On one level the novel is a satire about the unredeemable nature of the rich and powerful. On another level it’s about the death of innocence and how purity and goodness cannot exist in world of political corruption and personal deceit.

I passed the book onto Will Cowell (The other Caligula) and he decided we should make a show about it- he said it might be a catastrophe- I agreed- then we decided we didn’t give a fuck.

A year later we had Arts Council Funding for an R & D period, working with a cast and a musician to explore the piece and make some material.

I’m aware that I skimmed over the Arts Council bit which many might consider a significant moment in the life of a young company, and one in which I might offer tips to the expectant reader, therefore, put simply:

A) Get a producer

B) Get a cafetiere

C) Get a book of departmental terminology

D) Get a noose for when the decision comes through

I will be offering more useful tips of this nature thorough the piece. In fact I can feel another one coming on now…Oh yeah, here it is….

Caligula’s Top Tip’s #2 Get a knife and be ready to thrust.

Theatre is all about having targets and firing at them – sounds aggressive but it can be fun. You must know why you are making the kind of work you are making and how you say it differently from others. This leads me to another tip…

Caligula’s Top Tip #2B make some work that people see before you get a twitter account/ website. Never refer to yourself as a Director of a company that has not made anything. You are the work, not the company.

So we made a bit of a show, performed it to some people and then threw half of it away and wrote another load of stuff. This is, unfortunately, an occupational hazard and must be done in order to achieve anything close to interesting; like good wine, or sex or cheese or tyranny, timing is all important. Make some stuff, then leave it to cool, let the unconscious do some work and then return to it with a fresh perspective. This next tip is good….

Caligula’s Top Tip #3 – The 18 minute rule.

Up until the 18 minute mark the audience are still attempting to figure it out, working out the rules, getting into the style etc. If the deadline passes and they are still dead behind the eyes then you might have made some bad theatre. Interestingly you will find that most modern theatre audiences appear dead behind the eyes- far be it from me to suggest there is a correlation between the two.

Then came our difficult second Arts Council Form, which arrived to the fanfare of no-one and left us out of pocket with nowhere to rehearse. How the mighty fall. We find ourselves currently crammed into the living room of an old care home where I currently reside, awaiting the sun’s glare to unfreeze our neglected scripts.

We are used to the gutter and perhaps that’s where we belong. George Orwell said that poverty is in some ways more comforting than wealth as one always fears rock bottom, therefore when you reach it you have no where left to fall, relieving the anxiety and providing some-form of liberation. I think he was trying to make the best of a bad situation, but I get what he means.

In some respects, having no money can be artistically very useful as we have had to streamline the show quickly and efficiently, whilst making sure we had explored every avenue. We are left with a subversive piece set in a maladjusted reality. We draw from the novel but we also reject it occasionally, preferring to focus on Dostoevsky incredible and murky life and today’s society at large. The liberating aspect about working for pittance- having previously worked for proper money- is that we answer to nobody. The work is completely our own and we are the behest of nobody but ourselves. This is a crucial idea and scares the fuck out of the people in charge…

Caligula’s Top-Tip #5

The ‘System’, for want of a better term, despise the Artist because the Artist can do it all by themselves; all you need is a pen, or some paper, or an old shoebox with some elastic bands wrapped around it. This is powerful for two reasons 1) The Artists are the whispering Girls in the playground, the State looks over and has no idea what they are talking about, then they feel sick, and this scares them 2) That is liberation, and we hardly ever get that these days.

Caligula decided that we would make a show about all of this stuff.. That show is called IDIOTS and could well be a catastrophe, but – as ever-  we would rather a catastrophe from the heart than a success from the state. However as with all penniless hypocritical theatre makers, we feverishly await the next funding grant…

IDIOTS is at Vault Festival from the 11-15 February.

Jonnie Bayfield

Jonnie Bayfield

Jonnie Bayfield is an Actor, Writer and performer based in London. Along with Will Cowell he is the Artistic Director of Caligula's Alibi. He is represented by PBJ management.