at the National Student Drama Festival, Wednesday 13th April 2011
“Mediocrity is everywhere” pronounces Peter Shaffer in the final moments of Amadeus. In George Ransley and Alice Bonifacio’s production, this is certainly evident; the play falls in and out of consciousness, showing moments of inspiration but falling flat on its face at others. Some extraordinary performances and striking images are let down by shoddy ensemble work and a lack of sincerity in the first half, making what could be an epic performance into something which seems to be not much better than a school play.
Shaffer’s script is a stinging look at the nature of genius and how famous artists are viewed in the eyes of the public. Salieri, a bitter
composer, tries to usurp and destroy Mozart’s career, unable to live with such a genius living in his midst. Ironically, however, he is the only living person to understand his peer’s ability, and vows to kill him. The play begins fairly slowly towards the beginning, but some heightened writing in the second act creates some beautiful moments of theatre.
Ransley and Bonifacio’s direction, however, doesn’t seem to take many risks, preferring to make obvious choices and failing to inject dynamism. The descent into madness of both Mozart and Salieri is supported by a change in tone of music, but these moments are few and far between. Too many static scenes where people stand around means we feel like direction in these areas has been skirted over. This is particularly evident in the final moments of the production, which sees ensemble members aimlessly wandering around the space, stopping and vocalising pointless lines. It feels like we’re watching a drama game.
Although performances given by the supporting cast are generally weak, the three central characters are played with maturity, showing a clear journey and improving greatly in act two. Elizabeth Borne in the role of Mozart’s wife, Constanze, offers a perfectly nuanced performance, delivering her lines with clarity. In the central roles of Mozart and Salieri, Simon Ginty and Ed Sheridan begin with no substance, but their journeys allow them to explore their roles better in the second act. When they take off their wigs, they are allowed to be human, and we only wish Ginty was able to show this extraordinary acting ability from an earlier stage. All three deserve every award they win.
A simple set, designed by Elspeth Helfer, allows for focus on character and plot, but scene changes facilitated by supporting actors have no pace. Every piece of music is beautifully played; when opera singers appear from behind the audience, it sends shivers down our collective spine, making us wish the live orchestra was used more throughout. Underscoring would have been useful, for the moments building up to Requiem, for example, are some of the most powerful.
This Amadeus has so much potential in its three central characters, but never utilises their full talent and fails to support them with a strong cast. Ensemble members never seem to know what they are supposed to be doing and lack clear direction, creating a lack of coherency in any scene which involves larger quantities of people. The first half lacks any sort of vision, as the actors overact, but as they gain confidence in the second act their talent shines through among some clear directorial decisions. If this clarity had been delivered throughout, Amadeus would be a stunning piece of theatre throughout rather than the glimpses of genius we get at the moment.