Sunday, 20 July 2014

'Amadeus' at Chichester Festival Theatre

Yesterday we got the train down to Chichester in rural West Sussex to the shiny new Chichester Festival Theatre for the matinee performance of 'Amadeus' with Rupert Everett in the lead as Salieri. I've never seen the play or the film so I didn't know what to expect but I was hit quite forcefully by Rupert's tireless performance and his rage at God.

'Amadeus' is the tale of Mozart's period of living in Vienna as an adult after touring Europe as a child prodigy. Mozart escapes the authority of his father and marries for love in Vienna while continuing to seduce as many women as possible. Salieri rules the music scene in Vienna as the court composer who is driven to distraction by the perfection of Mozart's music and plots his downfall.

The story is told in flashback with Salieri an old man in a wheelchair who transforms into his younger self with a smudge of paint on his eyebrows, a dark wig and throwing off his dressing gown. He is transformed into the upright Salieri of his youth encountering Mozart for the first time and having to run from the salon because of the sheer beauty of Mozart's playing. Salieri had previously made a pact with God that he would become a great composer but, somehow, God has undermined this pact by throwing Mozart into the mix and Salieri comes to see this as a war against God who uses Mozart as his weapon.

In typical Faustian manner, as Salieri's star rises Mozart descends into drunkenness and poverty, eventually dying. But years later it's Mozart's music that is played everywhere and not Salieri's so his last throw of the dice is to claim that he killed Mozart so his name will live forever linked to his hated Mozart. It seems to have worked.

Rupert Everett is the star of the show, on stage the whole time in what must be an exhausting performance. He is haughty, charming, feeble when old and vigorous when in his prime. His is a commanding presence on that stylishly baroque stage with minimal scenery or props, a piano on stage much of the time, a few chairs, chandeliers in the air and glass sliding doors all delivering an impression of opulence and grandeur fit for the Austro-Hungarian Emperor in the 1780s.

We have the potty-mouthed, childish Mozart as the enfant-terrible and genius of music stamping round the stage talking about shit and spanking, bringing challenge to the musical establishment of the court and city of Vienna, so wanting to please but continually failing. Joshua McGuire is the grotesque of Mozart for most the play before he becomes a figure of pity in the final scenes, desperate to please but never able to do so. Jessie Buckley plays Mozart's long-suffering wife and very good she is too, clearly the more adult of the two lovers but also capable of descending into lewdness.  She plays a nice line between long-suffering wife and harlot and in the final scene we see her selling Mozart's scores by the note.

I thought the whole cast were great, with the twin chorus gentlemen in grey appearing and disappearing in a blink with news about Mozart, repeating what they say and swirling round in frock coats. Simon Jones was great as the Emperor, not engaged and avoiding any and all arguments or need to make a decision (I missed his dressing gown though).

I hope this production transfers to the West End soon. It's a short run at Chichester and is only on for another two weeks and is definitely worth seeing.

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