Tag Archives: Peter Shaffer

Amadeus

Amadeus

★★★★

Bridewell Theatre

AMADEUS at the Bridewell Theatre

★★★★

Amadeus

“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

 

 

Recently reviewed by Phillip:

 

Starcrossed | ★★★★ | Wilton’s Music Hall | June 2022
Much Ado About Nothing | ★★★ | Jack Studio Theatre | August 2022
Ghost on a Wire | ★★★ | Union Theatre | September 2022
Playtime | ★★★★ | Royal & Derngate | September 2022
A Single Man | ★★★★ | Park Theatre | October 2022
The Mirror Crack’d | ★★★ | Royal & Derngate | October 2022
The Two Popes | ★★★★ | Royal & Derngate | October 2022
How To Build A Better Tulip | ★★ | Upstairs at the Gatehouse | November 2022

Click here to read all our latest reviews

 

Equus

Equus
★★★★★

Trafalgar Studios

Equus

Equus

Trafalgar Studios

Reviewed – 15th July 2019

★★★★★

 

“to praise each element of Equus individually is unfair, because it is the tandem of these parts that makes the production truly divine.”

 

It isn’t uncommon to see a play emotionally move an audience – to make them feel the pathos or joy that the characters are experiencing. However, I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen theatre physically move an audience – to make them lean forward, gasp, and let their jaws hang for extended periods of time. It’s a testament to the power of Equus, then, that the audience member sat next to me – along with many others – barely seemed to even be in their seat, so moved were they by the ferocious and sinewy stallion of a play that was taking place.

Equus centres on Alan Strang (Ethan Kai), a seventeen-year-old boy who blinded six horses over the course of one night. It rests with psychiatrist Martin Dysart (Zubin Varla) to uncover the motivation behind the crime, although in doing so he is also forced to interrogate his own beliefs on religion, passion, and purpose. The story is framed chiefly around this patient-doctor dynamic, although a host of other characters are implicated in Martin’s analysis, including Alan’s parents Dora (Doreene Blackstock) and Frank (Robert Fitch), forming a claustrophobic and tense psychological drama. But the true genius of Peter Shaffer’s writing (also of Amadeus fame) is that this paradigm is only one of the levels on which Equus operates; bubbling under the scientific surface is a much more non-secular interrogation of the social and cultural values that cultivated the environment in which Alan could be compelled to carry out such acts as he did. Shaffer’s rhetoric can be transcendentally poetic, weaving metaphor upon metaphor into a textured tapestry that cuts to the very core of what it means to be alive.

The writing never strays into the territory of being overly-ruminative though. Ned Bennet’s visceral and kinetic direction ensures that the intellectual complexities of the play are being constantly physicalised and theatricalised, with the help of Shelley Maxwell’s inventive and raw movement direction; Alan’s bed being used as a trampoline on which he is brutally flung around under a vicious strobe light, for example, serves to manifest the emotional realities of the character. This is heightened tenfold by the soul-searing strings of the sound design (Giles Thomas), the unnerving, subliminal lighting (Jessica Hung Han Yun), and the slick and stripped back set design (Georgia Lowe). The performances, too, are roundly sublime – Varla especially is revelatory, fully owning the hefty language of his many monologues, immaculately delivering the thematic nuance of the speeches with drive and agency. Credit must also go to the transportive ensemble and animal work, as many of the cast also embody horses during the play, particularly Ira Mandela Siobhan as Nugget.

However, to praise each element of Equus individually is unfair, because it is the tandem of these parts that makes the production truly divine. The quality of the writing exacerbates the direction, which exacerbates the performances, which exacerbates the design, and so on ad infinitum. It constructs a whole reactor of impeccably crafted atoms, all meteorically colliding with each other in a seamless symbiosis that creates the nuclear level of theatrical and spiritual energy that is transferred to the audience and galvanises them to move. Equus is utterly celestial.

 

Reviewed by Tom Francis

Photography by The Other Richard

 

Equus

Trafalgar Studios until 7th September

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
A Guide for the Homesick | ★★★ | October 2018
Hot Gay Time Machine | ★★★★★ | November 2018
Coming Clean | ★★★★ | January 2019
Black Is The Color Of My Voice | ★★★ | February 2019
Soul Sessions | ★★★★ | February 2019
A Hundred Words For Snow | ★★★★★ | March 2019
Admissions | ★★★ | March 2019
Scary Bikers | ★★★★ | April 2019
Vincent River | ★★★★ | May 2019
Dark Sublime | ★★★ | June 2019

 

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