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SPOTLIGHT: A glimpse into the AMADEUS experience at Theatre on the Bay

Barbara Loots


There is a new local staging of Peter Shaffer’s AMADEUS in town, and we got to ask some of the cast members a few questions to get insight into their experience with the play. The talented Aidan Scott (A.S) is amazing audiences in the role of Mozart, along with the effervescent Lisa Tredoux (L.S) as Constanze and fan-favourite Mark Elderken (M.E) as Emperor Joseph II.

Play-turned-movie, many are well-acquainted with Shaffer's AMADEUS and its exploration of the fictionalized rivalry between Mozart and the apparently murderous court-composer Salieri (Alan Committie) who turns confessor towards the audience to recount their tumultuous professional feud. Shaffer’s AMADEUS carries with it all the elements of a good production: Suspense, comedy, rousing music and great characters.

1. What about the play, AMADEUS, intrigued you to be part of this production?

A.S: Peter Shaffer really. As well as a combination of well aligned coincidences. A couple of weeks before I got the call, I was watching the National Theatre’s version online and thought how incredible it would be to have the resources in South Africa to be able to put something like that on. I’m a big fan of ensemble work and a play that “moves”. This one really ticked all those boxes.


L.T:  I grew up watching the movie and dressing my barbies in dresses that my sister made, so to be in this play and have her (Tineill Tredoux) on the costume team felt pretty full circle for me. It's also so exciting to be in a cast of eight doing this very elaborate show that's traditionally done with a huge cast. The female roles are quite limited so having cracked a seat at the table is extremely satisfying. The two females in the play are actually so badass (not just the actresses). One of them Katerina (Léa Blerk) decides to pursue a career instead of marriage and becomes the best singer of her time and Constanza (me) does whatever she needs to do to stay afloat and protect her family.


M.E: The last time AMADEUS was staged in South Africa, I was abroad and didn’t get to see it. When I was approached to be part of this production, working as part of an ensemble in a cast of eight actors who never leave the stage, I was instantly interested and excited.

2. What do you like most about Peter Shaffer’s style of writing?

A.S: I always find myself taken aback by certain moments in a Shaffer play. AMADEUS, for example, is set up as a dramatic and sweepingly beautiful chorus piece. And then enter Mozart, stage right, whose first line is “Meeeooww”. I often find his writing quite disruptive and disconnected from a dialogue point of view. But soon you find yourself onstage, speaking them, leaning into the imagery and suddenly you hear the music that he has tapped into. This is all my own experience anyway. 


L.T:  Shaffer's writing feels quite biblical in its grandeur. It’s beautiful and heavy. Honestly, I struggle with plays that have large cuts in them. I think Geoff Hyland and Alan Committie did a great job at cutting the play to make it a palatable length for audiences. I think we do great justice to the gravitas of his writing with the help of the amazing design team.


M.E: I’d read Equus and seen the film version of AMADEUS. They were so imaginative and clever and I knew that the roles he writes really allow actors to create something interesting. He isn’t prescriptive and doesn’t tell you what to do. He creates ample opportunities for actors to make whichever part they are playing their own.

3. Why do you think the alleged rivalry between Mozart and Salieri still captivates so many years after?


A.S: The rivalry I think is something we’ve all felt at a certain point in our lives. I know I have. Even if it seems one sided. It’s a deeply human experience that comes along with that beautiful little ego we’ve been given. To have our feelings and thoughts played on stage in real time is an opportunity for us to sit back and revel in the many experiences we’ve perhaps felt, but bottled in our whole lives. That, and the fact that it just happens to be one of the greatest composers of all time. And on a very pretty stage. 

L.T:  I think everyone can relate to trying their best at their passion but still knowing of someone who is seemingly more gifted. It's a difficult feeling to sit with and difficult to put into words. 'Jealousy' isn't a complex enough emotion. It's awe and jealousy and resentment and self deprication and a weird sort of motivation all wrapped up into one destructive feeling. I think it's quite cool to watch this feeling explored over the length of the show. Although Salieri is the 'bad guy' we all kind of relate to him.


M.E: It’s such a universal theme isn’t it? A great rivalry is always captivating. Interestingly, many people now assume that this one between Mozart and Salieri was completely real and true due to the success of Shaffer’s AMADEUS.

4. How did you approach your character in tackling your role? Did you do any special preparation or research for this role?

A.S: I generally don’t research things unless it’s from a place of curiosity. I think it’s a lot for my brain to take on. A fun fact that I might have picked up on Google isn’t going to translate onto stage. This whole world is on the paper and I do my very best to capture the essence of this particular world. That being said, I did pick up a book containing all Mozart’s actual letters he sent various people where I had lovely insight into his sense of humour. He did in fact enjoy a good fart joke. 


L.T:  I think part of what I love about performance is that no matter how you prepare or what decisions you make about your character, they will develop and change according to what your cast mates bring to the table. I really didn't want her to be a victim or a damsel, but still really wanted to bring across her struggles as Mozart slowly deteriorates.

M.E: I did the usual research on who he was and what he did but quickly found that it wasn’t massively important in the context of the play. Joseph ll was indeed a historical figure, who existed, but on the page his character is an invention of Peter Shaffer. That gives the actor a fun opportunity to play around and build something fresh but ultimately plausible.

5. What about your character surprised you in the process?


A.S: His abundance of energy! I thought I was going to take this on in a totally different way. A little more cool and precise. The script really doesn’t slow for that. Every scene is just head on. Mozart almost thinks in double time and words come first. The thought comes afterwards. 

L.T:  I think she's actually very calculated. It's easy for her to come across as a silly good time girl, but at her core she is very used to lower class life and is fighting to maintain her new found status.


M.E: Most of his scenes contain the refrain: “Well… there it is.” I’ve found that this line can be used in many situations in real life and will probably have a different meaning every time. I now use it regularly and in various accents around the house.

6. How has it been working with director Geoffrey Hyland again after the success of A Midsummer Night’s Dream?

A.S: A dream. Geoff and I have a real trust for one another that I appreciate. His direction feels grand, musical and sweeping. Which is perfect for a piece like this. But he also taps into the core of who you are under all the monumental moments. It’s a nuance that you can’t hide, and if you do, he knows it and you know it. He’s just fantastic. 


L.T:  I really enjoy working with Geoff. Getting to work with him once was pretty amazing, but twice in a row is a real treat. I like that he lets me play and often jumps on stage to join in the fun. His direction feels very educational and I have learnt so much from him. I hope I get to work with him again soon.


M.E: I’ve been extremely fortunate to have worked with Geoff numerous times over the years. He was my lecturer at UCT and we have a kind of shorthand whenever we work together. He has guided me through some of the best roles I’ve ever had on stage and has always somehow trusted me not to screw them up. He’s supposedly retired now but seems to be working more than ever which is great news for our industry. He is a sublime director!

7. Are there theatrical (or other) influences that form part of who you are as a performer?

A.S: It sounds cliche, especially considering the part I’m playing, but music. I’ve always felt the broad idea of a piece or character with the music that accompanies them. I also hear dialogue rhythmically more than I do emotionally. 

L.T:  Tamsin Greig is insane. I love actresses that have a very elegant masculinity about them. I don't think I'm anywhere near cracking it, but I absolutely love the power that people like Greig and Emma Thompson have. I'm not sure whether it's a vocal quality or just an essence about them but it makes their vulnerability so touching.


M.E: I just want to have a good experience with the work I do. If a director has an exciting concept and is putting together a cast and show that looks like it’ll be an interesting project, then I want to be a part of it. I guess I’m influenced by the joy I’ll get out of doing a play and the excitement/fear of creating something new.

8. Is there a dream play that you would like to usher onto the South African stage that you want to star in?

A.S: I really like Martin McDonagh’s work. A great play of his is The Pillowman that I think will knock people off their feet. I’m a big fan of Harold Pinter. The Homecoming is a great play that I’d love to see in South Africa too.


L.T:  I actually had the amazing opportunity to develop a staging of Skin Tight with director Dr Mbongeni Mtshali and actor Jock Kleynhans. I would so love to do that play again this year and give it another chance to fulfill it's potential. It's a beautifully intimate piece about love and loss that I think could touch so many more people than it did in our first run.


M.E: Nothing, in particular really. There are so many wonderful new plays that we are being introduced to on a regular basis. I’m simply an actor for hire and if I get the chance to be part of a great production with an excellent team of coworkers then I’m happy.

The local staging of AMADEUS is presented by Gloucester Productions in partnership with Carolyn Steyn and Siv Ngesi and with permission by Concord Theatricals Ltd.

AMADEUS runs at Pieter Toerien's Theatre On The Bay until 18 May, 2024. Ticket prices range from R180 - R300 and bookings are through Webtickets.

For more information about the show you can read the press release and our review.



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