Sunday, September 20, 2009


4MBS Classic
Theatre Royal
Friday, September 18

Stephenie Cahalan

The constant dilemma of fiction being mistaken for history (such as the heated discourse prompted by Kate Grenville’s The Secret River ), rears its head in the play of Amadeus by Peter Shaffer. This production by 4MBS Classic from Brisbane presents the story of the Italian composer Antonio Salieri as we meet him at the end of his life, ‘confessing’ to killing the young composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Casual reading of the internet led me to numerous articles at pains to assure the reader that Mozart was NOT poisoned, but most likely died of rheumatic fever. Yet, if Shaffer had stuck to the dry facts, then the clever and engaging Amadeus may not have made it to the stage.

Amadeus is part mystery, part music history. It tells the age-old story of young talent trying to break through the wall of convention and vested interest to help culture evolve. The criticism leveled at Mozart by Emperor Joseph II for using ‘too many notes’ is one of the very things that makes his music so profoundly thrilling. So many notes, and so expertly arranged, but it was not the done thing at the time, and not to be encouraged: as Shaffer’s character complains, ‘There are only so many notes one can hear in the course of an evening!’

Andrew McFarlane, as Salieri, carried the story with flair through his soliloquies, memories and conversations with the audience, a fair portion of which were delivered in Italian. McFarlane portrayed well the change in temperament from a largely good, but simple man to a bitter Machiavelli, plotting to ruin Mozart due to his envy of the young composer’s extraordinary musical gift.

Tama Matheson’s neat set design, with banners of sheet music suspended, easily located us in Viennese drawing rooms, theatres and the aged Salieri’s bedroom. Actors rearranged props to change scenes, but managed to avoid the impression they were moonlighting as stage techs between their lines.

It seemed at times as if things were in a bit of a rush, with not enough time for the actors to pause at significant moments and lines, yet the humour was not lost in the pace. The production was badly let down by the fact that the music, a critical part of the play, was downright sloppy with end notes cut off and clunky finishes. Given that 4MBS is a Classical Radio station, it is hard to excuse this embarrassing glitch.

In Amadeus, Salieri despaired at his own self-professed mediocrity and that he was ‘born a pair of ears and nothing more’. Yet, where would a performer be without countless pairs of ears to listen and love the talents of those who can move us with their music. Hear hear for the ears of this world! May they continue to be many.

Director: Tama Matheson
Cast: Andrew McFarlane, Dash Kruck, Kerith Atkinson, Nick Backstrom, Steven Tandy, Norman Doyle, Bruce Baddiley, Natasha Yantsch, Niki-J Witt.

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