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SCENE IT: AMADEUS, well, there it is

Barbara Loots

 

AMADEUS, the well-known play by Peter Shaffer, is currently onstage at Theatre on the Bay. This South African staging aims to entertain audiences with the rumoured rivalry between Mozart and Salieri in a more paired back, intimate fashion, where characters rather than opulence is the focal point.

Anyone who knows the play, and even the related movie, will know that there’s a frantic energy to this story of AMADEUS that entertains in a whirlwind of talent, ego, jealousy and destruction. In principle, any staging should then be explosive, dramatic, and funny. The current staging sadly left me somewhat unmoved.

 

Salieri, our dubious confessing murderer, portrayed by Alan Committie, at times comes across more as a caricature than a character sincerely sharing secrets. Committie’s performance, especially in the opening monologue, reminds of his previous portrayal of Richard III, with aspects of his comic persona peeking through as the play progresses in a manner that feels misplaced when considering the type of comedy envisioned by Shaffer. There’s also the issue of a roaming accent that hints at Italian and then (especially when in conversations with other characters) switches to no accent at all. The moments sans accent reveals a more authentic character, as the power of the narrative is best captured in the subtle tones and textures of the natural, conversational, spoken word. The inconsistency of the performance minimises the ability of the play to captivate, as Salieri drives the narrative. However, the fluctuation of style appears to be a deliberate choice.

Regardless of interpretation, what is key to the success of any staging of AMADEUS is the presence of passion, whether that be rooted in jealousy or love: AMADEUS requires an abundance of passion!

 

The performer who clearly understands the power and need of that passion-element in AMADEUS is Aidan Scott.


Scott as Mozart is the undeniable highlight of the show. He has jumped heart first into this deeply flawed character. He impresses in the manner with which he creates moments of real depth, even when the production itself seems designed to stifle such revelations. Scott understands the character and reveals Mozart to the audience in beautiful layers that allow both comedy and dramatic empathy to translate in his performance.

This staging of AMADEUS has a strong ensemble too, including talents like Mark Elderkin and the exquisite Lisa Tredoux, who add to the mix of colourful characters when this staging of AMADEUS allows such limited expression. Though it does seem a cardinal sin to relegate an actor of Elderkin’s stature to what can be described as a cameo. Elderkin, the consummate professional that he is, nevertheless breathes life into the character of Emperor Joseph II in the select moments he steps into the spotlight.

 

Somehow, for a play where the creation of music is a central theme, music seems underutilised, especially at the beginning.  I expected a symphonic atmosphere to envelope the narrative and audience, yet got only bits and pieces of such delight scattered throughout, and more so towards the end.

 

The set design, though expertly executed, seems to have a bit of a personality crisis. The sheet music floating at the back appears strongly inspired by Paul Cocksedge’s modern installation art, while the costumes have a punk edge, and the furniture assumedly tries to incorporate a more traditional element of 18th century Vienna. The use of three differing styles perhaps mirrors the disjointed character of the overall staging. The design hints at a designer working within the very prescriptive parameters set by someone driving the brief with considerations of what would make it pretty rather than what would serve the story. That it looked great is not disputed, whether it fits stylistically is.

Overall, this staging of AMADEUS just doesn’t have the magic one expects of this Shaffer delight. The pacing felt off, mostly too slow, and doesn’t really capture the imagination as Shaffer’s script has the power to do. As a fellow patron declared in conversation with her friends, “I expected more oomph!”.


So how would one then describe this AMADEUS staging? Borrowing from the Emperor in moments when he’s called upon to respond and doesn’t really want to engage: “Well, there it is.”

 

You have until 18 May 2024 to catch AMADEUS at Theatre on the Bay, with tickets available online for booking through Webtickets.

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