Amadeus – Genesian Theatre, Envy, Jealousy and Disbelief. (Theatre review)
October 25 to November 29 2014 – You can grab your tickets here.
Is there any greater mental curse than living with the juxtaposition of reaching for a genius you know alludes you and competing against an Other who reaches that genius with ease? The thing most creators who harbour a desire to make The Piece that will manifest itself as an event (that is the work that will create a demarcation and become the new benchmark) have in common is that they don’t know they are bad. Every flawed work can be accounted for in a chorus of reasons that prevented the fulfillment of potential, so artists die unknown and unfulfilled, usually because circumstances were never conducive to greatness. Most makers are spared the daily confrontation with the greater artist whose brilliance offers endless testimony to one’s own mediocrity. However, Salieri is that rare creature who had to endure a Mozart who not only brought the greatest music he’d ever heard to his hungry ears, but at precisely the same time obliterated any hope he had for his own ambitions. Surely we can understand how such a person might believe in God, because it is too horrible a fate to bear to not ascribe some sort of reason to the madness. Only a God could create something so desperately cruel, and only a God could take pleasure in a maddening torment that longs for old age and death as relief from its clutches.
George Sand is supposed to have said ‘Better to feel something than nothing,’ and I confess, there is a part of me that envies Salieri with his burning, all-consuming envy – an envy so pure, passionate and devouring, he strove to immortalise it in crime. I’ve never even loved like that. To be a fool for creative brilliance is surely to be no fool at all, and who among us can honestly say that in the presence of a Mozart, we wouldn’t feel some desire to ask “Why not me?” Why wasn’t I gifted from God, gifted with the additional chromosome, or dropped on my head at birth so that I might deliver music that will be played throughout the ages?
”If He did not want me to praise Him with music,” the mad old Salieri says to an uncomprehending priest, ”why did He give me the desire?”
Why indeed? Envy is one of the driving forces behind capitalism – you have to desire material things in order to work hard to build what it take to have them and you can only desire material things if you have seen another have them first. But envy for the material is nothing like envy over a talent or a gift , particularly when one is putting in the “effort” required to satisfy all the demands of accomplishment. Salieri will simply never be a Mozart, and he understands this to his horror, from the first moment he hears Mozart’s music. All he has left is his envy, and in the end, it is what he clings to like a zealot, making himself a martyr to all those artists who never quite make the grade. Shaffer has created a brilliant character in Salieri, Shakespearean in scope and tragedy, ironically making him the central figure in the life of Mozart, only to leave us with the paramount statement, “I don’t believe it.” It’s the exquisite and very contemporary question that alludes any answer – is Salieri famous just for being famous?
Stephen Lloyd-Coombs has put together a fantastic production of Amadeus at the Genesian theatre. Central to the play’s great success are three key performances; Nicole Wineberg as Constanze Weber, Jasper Garner-Gore as Mozart and Nick Hunter as a stand out Salieri. Hunter owns this performance, a walking, talking smoldering scorch as Shaffer’s words heat up to a seething boil within him. The presence he manifests is compelling, drawing the eye and the heart as we watch his battle with God in the darkness of his soul. It’s one of the best performances of 2014, and gives the entire play the platform it requires to pull off a production that naturally evokes strong ambition. He is supported by Jasper Garner-Gore whose slight, feather-weight Mozart, a slip of a man who looks like life could blow him away is wonderfully posited against the genius that flows out of him. Garner-Gore plays Mozart as if the music coming out of him is both something to be expected and a perpetual surprise, as he is enveloped in the same growing dread that so many brilliant artists have experienced before and after him; the slow dawning realisation no one in your day can see the quality of your work. Finally, wrapping up the performance triumvirate is Nicole Wineberg as Constanze Weber, a quick-witted woman who learns fast to allow for the ugliness she can see in the men around her. Shaffer writes complicated characters, and Wineberg has taken full advantage of the opportunity, calling forth a rich depth to Mozarts wife that manifests a combination of the victim, the opportunist and a driving force of integrity that becomes the axis upon which so many events will depend.
However, none of these great performances would mean anything if Stephen Lloyd-Coombs hadn’t surrounded them with a strong production including a fine cast and an excellent slew of creative talent behind the scenes. From Anthony Finch as Venticello and Claire Stewart-Moore as Venticella through to John Willis-Richards as Emperor Joseph the 2nd, all the cast have a wonderful time and it shows, with great performances all round – and wonderfully, no lost words, something that is so important in a Shaffer play. A shout out must go to Peter Hensen’s costumes which are astonishingly good, imbuing the cast with an authenticity they take full advantage of. A clever touch of Lloyd-Coombs is the gradual deterioration of Mozart’s garb, subtly done, and yet rather breathtaking as we watch horrified as someone who will be so important is allowed to dwindle away through neglect. All of this takes place in Ashley Bell’s set which is a brilliant amalgam of theatre space and minimalist touches that combine for a cathedral effect. If there is one small criticism, I kept waiting for THAT hall to be filled with THAT music and it didn’t happen on the night I was there – perhaps this is due to a slip on the night, or something else. Whatever, it is a minor issue. This is a big cast, a big production and a big subject, but never is it beyond the grasp of the creatives who do such a strong job bringing it all to lilfe.
The Genesian Theatre have had a good 2014 season that started with a fabulous production of Frankenstein. it’s been a year for bringing great, much loved and admired stories to the gorgeous little church theatre, including iconic tales like Pride and Prejudice, and the much loved mysteries of Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie. Frankenstein set a high bar they’ve consistently reached for throughout the year. They’ve really nailed it with this production though, reaching deep to raise the standard of their already fine performances. The current production of Amadeus at The Genesian theatre is as fine an interpretation of the famous Peter Shaffer play as you’ll ever find and well worth a night out.