Abingdon Drama Club is staging Amadeus this week at the Unicorn Theatre in Abingdon, in a production directed by Mike Ward.
Like many people, I suspect, my awareness of Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus came through the film version starring F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce. It’s many years since I saw the film, so I was able to watch the production without any preconceptions.
The play is a highly fictionalized dramatization, centred on the composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri. At the opening of the tale, Salieri is an old man, convinced that he poisoned Mozart. The action then flashes back to the 18th century, when Salieri had not met Mozart, although he adored his compositions.
He is bitterly disappointed to find that Mozart’s personality does not match the grace or charm of his compositions. He cannot reconcile Mozart’s boorish behaviour with the genius that God has bestowed upon him. Salieri renounces God and vows to do everything in his power to destroy Mozart as a way of getting back at his Creator.
The play has a very theatrical setting, with a Greek-style chorus – styled ‘Venticelli’ – who comment on the action, report offstage events and move scenery. Choreographing their entrances, exits, and onstage movements is a real challenge on a stage as compact as the Unicorn’s, and a lot of work had clearly been put into ensuring that this aspect worked smoothly.
Amadeus also makes heavy use, not unnaturally, of the music of Mozart. This is as much of a character in the play as anyone on stage. Mike Ward incorporates some very cleverly constructed and operated music to underpin and enhance the action on stage. The action is also supported by images projected onto the large back wall, and the lighting, too, is dramatic, although at times some characters seemed underlit for key speeches. I must also make special mention of the wigs – a key part of the show, and very well dressed and fitted by Susi Dalton and Jenny Day.
Shaffer’s play relies heavily on Salieri, who is on stage throughout, and who effectively narrates the entire show. Neelaksh Sadhoo plays this pivotal role with confidence and earns our sympathy for a man who (in the play at least) feels betrayed by his God, and resentful of the gifts He has frittered away on the potty-mouthed and childish Mozart.
Dave Cassar throws himself into the role of Mozart, and he is especially touching in Mozart’s death scene. He is ably supported by Rebecca Peberdy, who is lively and engaging as Constanze.
The main focus of the play is on Salieri, Mozart and Constanze. The rest of the cast appear in a series of short scenes, and have very limited time to establish themselves or their characters. Nevertheless, Lynne Smith as the Baron and Geraldine Hodson as the Emperor have great presence and play their respective roles with aplomb.
This is a very challenging play for an amateur group, and it needs a group with the technical expertise which Abingdon Drama Club can bring in order to make the music and the action into a seamless whole. This production – which continues this week at the Unicorn Theatre in Abingdon – is an ideal opportunity to see one of Peter Shaffer’s best-known plays.