AMADEUS at the Bridewell Theatre
“It is the role of Salieri that drives the piece through and Chris de Pury gives a masterful and word-perfect performance”
Leading amateur group Sedos takes on Peter Shaffer’s epic play of mediocrity versus genius. A deep stage on four levels is littered with over-sized music manuscripts pasted to the floor and back cloth. A harpsichord sits close to the front of the stage.
The first word we hear in a multitude of whispers is the name Salieri. Rumours abound that the former Court Composer has admitted to murdering his rival Mozart some thirty years previously. Director Matt Gould uses his full ensemble dramatically to set the scene with some impressive choral speaking as the rumours – “I don’t believe it” – are spread across Vienna.
Antonio Salieri (Chris de Pury) appears on the verge of madness, eyes rolling and tongue flicking, wrapped in a blanket and moving uneasily with the help of a cane. De Pury will soon have to portray the younger Salieri, sporting a stylish wig and elegant frock coat, and he manages the transformation convincingly, replacing a gruff and gravelly roughness of the older man, punctuated by manic laughs, with a suave and sophisticated smoothness for the younger. If the actor, according to the programme notes, is worried about his Italian language skills it doesn’t show in this performance.
The stolid character of Salieri is soon to be compared with that of the young Mozart (Alex Johnston), already being hailed as the best new thing in town. Johnston cavorts, giggles, and gambols around the stage. An impressive jump directly onto the top of the harpsichord brings gasps from amongst the audience. With near hysteria in his vocal tone for much of the time, however, some nuance is lacking as the play develops. Sporting a leopard skin print coat (Costume Designer Callum Anderson), this design is subtly matched in the leggings of wife Constanze (Jamila Jennings-Grant) and later in patches on their ragged clothes as the couple slides into poverty. Constanze is played coarsely in the style of a footballer’s wife and most notably in both her love play with Mozart and Salieri’s seduction scene this is not entirely convincing.
The four Venticelli are a delight (Christian Brunskill particularly catches the eye) as they keep Salieri informed of the latest rumours around town, their bustling activity heightening the energy levels on each appearance. Appearances of the Austrian Emperor Joseph I (Adam Moulder) are worthy too of note. Moulder makes the most of this near-comic role, with affected vocal tone, mannerisms and gestures, perfectly balanced.
The element of live performance (Holli Farr & Andy Lee) within the production is delightful. The on/off use of amplified sound to allow solo voices to be heard above recorded orchestral music, however, distracts on some occasions.
Scenes involving the full ensemble are nicely done. Turning chairs around to face upstage so that they become part of the audience at the opera is a nice touch. The use of coloured lights changes the mood at a muddled party scene freeing itself from the historical period but guests doing funky dance moves to electronic music seems incongruous.
It is the role of Salieri that drives the piece through and Chris de Pury gives a masterful and word-perfect performance. At his best when speaking confidentially and directly to the audience with a wink and a knowing smile, we learn his inner thoughts. When he believes he has been tricked by God, Pury spits out his anger vehemently. But did he really murder Mozart? Are the rumours true?
Reviewed on 23rd November 2022
by Phillip Money
Photography by David Ovenden
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