REVIEW: Envy, betrayal and the magnificent music of Mozart

Gary Andrews as Salieri. Picture by Kevin Day
Gary Andrews as Salieri. Picture by Kevin Day

Amadeus by Peter Shaffer, The Archway Theatre, Horley, until October 8

Some people consider classical music to be rather dry and boring.

Joseph Booton (right) as Mozart. Picture by Kevin Day

Joseph Booton (right) as Mozart. Picture by Kevin Day

It’s understandable. The best pieces were often written hundreds of years ago, they deal with mostly highbrow themes and they seem to go on for ages. And on top of this, classical musicians today perform the works in sharp suits and fancy environments, making it all seem very formal and not much fun.

Well, people who think classical music is dull should really check out the Archway Theatre’s version of Amadeus.

Written by Peter Shaffer, the tale is told from the point-of-view of composer Antonio Salieri. Deeply affected by music from a young age, Salieri decides to spend his life serving God by creating his own concertos and symphonies. He does very well for himself and is appointed director of Italian opera by the Habsburg court. However, when he encounters a vulgar young rival by the name of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart his world is turned upside down. Mozart is childish, arrogant and obsessed with toilet humour, but he can effortlessly create music that seems to flow directly from a divine source. Tormented by Mozart’s brilliance Salieri begins to plot the man’s downfall.

The story, the programme tells me, is highly fictionalised, as is its depiction of Salieri.

But the aim of this play is not a straightforward recreation of real events as they would have unfolded. Instead, Amadeus is a look at the devastating effects of envy – artistic, professional and sexual – not just on a small group of people, but on society as a whole.

Salieri, played with intelligence and intensity by Gary Andrews, knows that Mozart is God’s instrument on Earth, capable of revealing the nature of the divine to humanity.

And he decides to block him, depriving the world of this gift.

In one jaw-dropping scene, a furious Salieri declares himself God’s enemy and spitefully vows to ruin Mozart’s chances of success, critical acclaim and, most importantly, widespread recognition. It’s a particularly well acted moment as Gary brings out all the pain and frustration that his character is experiencing.

A play like this – complete with the wigs and those neat 18th century costumes – is always in danger of feeling stuffy but these emotional moments give us something more human to hold on to.

Nothing quite punctures this potential stuffiness like Joseph Booton’s portrayal of Mozart though. Sporting outrageously colourful wigs and acting like a kid who’s eaten too much chocolate, his Mozart is irritatingly eccentric and puerile. It’s a very funny performance though and Joseph is great at portraying a character who’s capable of driving the over-serious Salieri up the wall.

There’s nice work from the rest of the cast but the stand-out secondary performances are arguably Tony Godden as Joseph II and Lisa Ray as Constance Weber. Tony gets some healthy laughs playing a man of power and influence who is remarkably philistine and, well, rather dim. Lisa, meanwhile, is strong as a fitting love interest for Mozart, matching his idealism, energy and free-spirited nature.

Acting aside, this play is particularly impressive for the way it describes the effects of Mozart’s work. The sharp script helps, of course, but director David Gallichan deserves credit for using lighting, staging and sound so his performers can inject life into these bits of musical analysis.

When Salieri talks about how Mozart’s magnificent work will survive, while his own mediocre offerings will fade into obscurity, the whole audience should understand why.

To see more pictures from the production and to find out more about the Archway Theatre Company click here.

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