by Peter Shaffer
Chichester Festival Theatre
Saturday 19th July 2014. 2.30 pm
Directed by Jonathan Church
Designed by Simon Higlett
Rupert Everett as Salieri
Joshua McGuire as Mozart
Jessie Buckly as Constanze Weber (Mrs Mozart)
Simon Jones as Emperor Joseph II of Austria
Timothy Knightley as Count Van Strack
John Standing as Count Rosenberg
Richard Clifford as Baron van Swielen
James Simmons & Derek Hutcihnson as Venticelli
The main stage at Chichester has been closed for two years for extensive renovation, and Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus marks the re-opening, as part of a Shaffer celebration. The Festival Theatre was always one of the best theatrical spaces in England. With the renovation … more flexible stage, steeper rake, better public areas, far more ladies loos … it now shares top billing with the Olivier Theatre at the National. One of the two finest theatres in the country (the RSC loses points for audience comfort).
What can you say? Ample car parking at £4.40 for the whole day right next to it, excellent fair-priced Brasserie for lunch, large new café, two shops, lovely views, nice parkland for fresh air in the interval, great road connections (65 miles home in 65 minutes), programmes at £3 instead of the going rate of £4, even nice ice-creams. Can it get better?
Chichester Festival Theatre: encores
Well, add a five star opening play and production and cast. Amadeus is intrinsically a superb play. This set and production do it full justice. The set echoes the hexagonal theatre, with the thrust stage hexagonal and everything is black and gold with chandeliers, and the Chichester trademark transparent back wall with action glimpsed behind it.
Salieri (Rupert Everett) and Mozart (Joshia McGuire)
Rupert Everett as Salieri, the jealous failed composer has monumental stage presence. He shifts from 70 to 31 and back again in less than a second. His voice is a joy to hear. He inhabits Salieri to the point where he is Salieri. He’s onstage for the entire two and a half hours too, acting, narrating, listening. Not a break. The only thing in this production that irritated us were the audience. We found the ending so deeply moving, that we felt it needed … lights down, five seconds pause in the dark to let the impact sink in, lights up … huge applause. Instead the applause started as the lights were still going down, breaking our reverie.
Then there’s Joshua McGuire as Mozart, an inspired piece of casting. McGuire is very short, Everett very tall. McGuire was last seen in The Magistrate at the National, playing the 19 year old son, Cis, who has to pretend to be fourteen. Wonderful. Here they made use of his stature for contrast, and contemporaries record that Mozart was “a remarkably small man,” not that Amadeus should ever be taken as a historical record of Mozart. It’s a creation inspired by the story of Mozart’s life, not a biography. But forget McGuire’s stature, his performance was incredible. He starts out as high comedy, or as Salieri says “the shit-talking Mozart with the botty-smacking wife.” Shaffer was inspired by Mozart’s letters which indicated that our genius was full of toilet-humour language. McGuire has us crying with laughter AT him at first. Then we begin to empathize with his Mozart, and in the end we are totally caught up in the very unfunny tragedy of his life. A masterly transition, pulling us with him all the way from tears of laughter to tears of sadness.
Salieri (Rupert Everett) makes his play for Constanz (Jessie Buckley)
Jessie Buckley plays Constanz, or Mrs Mozart. We last saw her opposite Jude Law in Henry V (Grandage season) playing Katherine of France. She’s the “real person” cast adrift among these composers, and a standout moment in the entire play is her frantic dance on the table in Act Two. She’s lovely. Her attempted seduction by Salieri is a major scene, as is her return to “deliver the goods” to get Mozart preferment at the Austrian court.
Simon Jones as the Joseph II, Emperor of Austria looks suitably regal, but slightly perplexed, throughout, delivering his final say on everything: “There it is”. His face is incredibly familiar. He was Arthur Dent in A Hitchiker’s Guide To The Galaxy and the pious ‘Bridie’, Sebastian’s older brother in Brideshead Revisited. His voice is familiar too, as he is an award winning and prolific audio book reader. It was a great pleasure to see him on stage … most of his stage work has been in America.
The “Venticelli” or “little winds” are a duo dressed in grey who function as a chorus, spreading and repeating rumor and news. It’s a theatrical device which works so well in the semi-round thrust stage, circling, repeating to the audience. They’re a vital aspect of the stage play, which like the important Magic Flute subplot about Freemasons got lost in the film version.
Every role in the play contributes with their expressions of disdain. A great ensemble piece which we feel privileged to have seen.
Saliery, watched by the ensemble through the transparent set
There are all sorts of questions on history and reporting and rumor and reality addressed by the play. I have met enough famous people to accept that Mozart was (a) a genius (b) an arsehole. No problem.
I love the pre-interval monologue from Salieri, back in his old man part of the timeline. He describes how his aged bladder needs relief, just like the audience. And relief was so easy in a theatre with the best provision of loos I’ve seen.
The play is beautifully theatrical. We have great movement, interaction, two extraordinary tableaux of scenes from the operas, and a significant number of ensemble players. Not only did we buy the programme on the way in, we bought the script on the way out. I’m surprised the run is so short … as word gets round this could run for months. The music is … OK, it’s Mozart. The running gag is Saltieri composing a march to greet Mozart. Mozart extemporizes on it from memory and greatly improves it, then lifts the basic tune (so galling for Saltieri) for one of his operas. The music soundtrack could have been louder though. A lot of it has to be quiet because Salieri is talking over it, but I would have let some of the Mozart music soar a little more
An inspired and inspirational production. Both The Guardian and The Telegraph, my benchmarks, gave it four stars. So what was one deducted for? I can’t imagine a reason. Charles Spencer in The Telegraph said:
Over the years I have seen Paul Scofield, Ian McKellen and David Suchet play Salieri, and it is wonderful to report that Rupert Everett, who has often seemed intent on frittering away his talent, proves absolutely their equal in this role.
Would Salieri have said of Mozart “He’s a brilliant keyboard player, no question.” ? Keyboard encompasses piano, clavinet and harpsichord, but to me “keyboard” is the catch all word for piano / Hammond organ / Fender Rhodes / Wurlitzer / Mellotron / Synthesizer / Yamaha / Roland / Korg etc. It sounds odd (to me) in the 18th century. A friend points out that in German it’s klavier meaning keyboard, not “piano.” But Shaffer’s writing in English.
Amadeus – National Theatre 2016 to 2017