I love obsessive rivalries. I love nemeses. I love characters so filled with hate that their enemies come to mean something much more than they are. For Antonio Salieri, court composer and protagonist of Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, the famous Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart comes to symbolise not only everything that he is not (impulsive, inspired, a maverick) but to resemble the God who seems to have so much disdain for his own abilities; even his name (Ama-deus) seems to rub his chosen status in Salieri’s face: “Mozart the flute, God the relentless player.”
Given the absorbing subject matter of Salieri’s dogging of Mozart’s professional and personal life, as well as the sensitive, sparkling script by Shaffer, the play is, from the beginning, a sure thing. And the central performance by Stan Carrodus as Salieri only cements this; by turns rapturous, disgusted but always sympathetic, Carrodus delivers a performance here which is altogether one of the strongest I’ve seen in student theatre. The role of Salieri, with so much speaking, could easily pose a challenge to a less able actor, but Carrodus’ impeccable voice and perfectly-timed actions ensure that he is never felt to be lacking. His character, on the other hand, is tortured by his own inadequacies, blaming Mozart, seething with nationalist resentments, and with a strong sense of God’s injustice.
We are witnesses to everything he does, entreated at the start of the play to stay for what he tells us will be the last night of his life, and we watch him haunt and be haunted by Mozart in turn. Imogen Allen, as Constanze, delivers a steady performance which shone in her final scene, and Adam Goodbody has an excellent comedic rapport with his fellow actors as Emperor Joseph II. Chris Page, as Mozart, the “filthy creature” whom Salieri despises, is less assured than his counterpart; not quite believable as the rockstar figure of the 18th century that he was, though at times genuinely innocent-seeming, his giggling seemed forced and a little reminiscent of a GCSE Drama Mercutio.
And what of the music? I noticed one older couple near me nodding, as if they couldn’t agree more with it, as it played (it takes quite a while to come into the play, despite all the talk of arias and opera). Though the direction wasn’t particularly inspired, the trick of changing the track as Salieri sight-reads different scores was clever, and the stage design perfectly economical, just about suited to the BT. Mozart sported some particularly dashing shoes, but the masks worn by the chorus were rather basic (and I confess I was very distracted by how similar Venticello, played by Rupert Stonehill, sounded to my ex).
Altogether, it’s a shame for those without tickets that Amadeus is now sold out. The script alone and Carrodus’ performance are enough to recommend this to anybody. My favourite moment was one of delightful physical and musical comedy, as Salieri plays Mozart’s improvement to his own march; the effect was devastating. The story is really one of terrible cruelty – the situation recognisable for all.