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If you have just a vague idea of Mozart the man, are not used to the plays of Peter Shaffer and haven’t seen several stagings by John Doyle – which presumably leaves room for several million people – Doyle’s new production of Shaffer’s Amadeus may prove a stirring piece of melodrama. Since it includes a range of Mozart’s music, it gives you a broad sample of his genius. But its main story – in which the dying Salieri recalls how he destroyed Mozart, and blames God for being unfair – has always been a pile of old ham. And Mozart studies long ago established that Shaffer’s account of Mozart, as a drunken urchin out of whom genius pours without struggle, is wilfully blinkered and partial and frequently erroneous.
Most of Shaffer’s plays tell the same pseudo-tragic story. Something civilised, inhibited and hard-working enjoys a love/hate relationship with, and helps to destroy, something unrepressed, natural and brilliant. If Shaffer’s conformist Salieri could only think through and develop his idea of the God he blames for bestowing genius on the foul-mouthed Mozart, we might have a serious drama. Instead this Salieri, with his long speeches, is that standard figure, the semi-repentant villain who, in the hour of his death, reveals all.
As a music-theatre director, John Doyle has developed an inventive style based on performers who act, and play instruments, and sing. But there are many moments in Amadeus when we’re given weak acting and weaker Mozart. And when it comes to the Requiem, Doyle just gives up and plays a recording. Matthew Kelly gives us a black-cloaked, furtive but fruity Salieri who is halfway to becoming Dracula, especially with the House of Horror under- lighting that’s used for his soliloquies. The whole production, nicely gauged to fit little Wilton’s Music Hall, is an essay in camp – black-and-gold designs, made-up male venticelli, extensive side-lighting – which is just what the play deserves. ★☆☆☆☆
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