It’s always difficult coming to a play knowing an adaptation better than the original. Although Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus was premiered in 1979, five years before Miloš Forman’s acclaimed film production, I suspect that most people will be in the same position that I was when I was treated to a preview of the first act of the Trinity College Lawns production.
As unfair as it is, I was sceptical at first—I’ll be called a philistine, but I was left feeling distinctly underwhelmed when I saw Dale Wasserman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest knowing most of the lines of Forman’s version of Ken Kesey’s book by heart—however, thanks to stunning performances by Thomas Olver (Antonio Salieri), Hugh Macfarlane (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) and Maude Morrison (Constanze Weber, Mozart’s wife), the Trinity production of Amadeus has a freshness and vitality that will command the attention of even the most ardent devotees of Forman’s film.
For those unacquainted with either the play or the film, the essential subject matter is Mozart’s life in late 18th century Vienna. Narrated by the jealousy-consumed, senior composer, Salieri, the play is equal parts psychological drama and sacrilegious burlesque. Those of a historical bent may well find themselves annoyed. To call Amadeus highly fictionalised is an understatement: Shaffer can be held accountable for propagating the facile genius myth that now dominates popular Mozart reception in spite of evidence that Mozart was a relatively well-adjusted, well integrated member of Austrian society. Nonetheless, the bottom line is that it’s entertaining.
Olver’s performance as Salieri is captivating from start to finish, while Macfarlane’s Mozart, fiery and whimsical by turns, is the perfect dramatic partner. It is Morrison as Mozart’s wife, however, who delivers some of the most emotionally compelling performances, exuding a vulnerable gravity that dominates her scenes without ever becoming overbearing.
Naturally, the production incorporates music by both Mozart and Salieri, and I am moved to wonder why, in performances otherwise so polished, there is not more attention given to learning to conduct realistically. Macfarlane’s attempt was more sticking pins in a notice board than leading an orchestra, but this is a minor niggle in an otherwise exhilarating performance.
Amadeus is showing in Trinity College Lawns every night at 7.30pm from Wednesday 8 June to Saturday 11 June, with an additional 2.30pm performance on the Saturday. Tickets are £7/£5.