LISE MCNALLY makes the wise decision not to plagiarise the Guide Dog and chows down on this show’s visual and theatrical sweeties instead.

Amadeus Beatrice Burrows James Morris Old Labs Peter Schaffer

Newnham Old Labs, 10th-13th March, 7.30pm, £4

Directed by Beatrice Burrows


I kinda hoped this play would be bad; the review would have written itself. The Theatre Guide Dog has already provided me with a handy little ironic conclusion, and I could have had great fun talking about how a play that uses the word “shit” all the time turned out to be just that. Unfortunately, I just can’t: Amadeus was utterly gorgeous.

Old Antonio Salieri (James Morris) is about to die sad, mad and alone. Despite these impediments, he re-enacts his past with remarkable agility and eloquence, guiding us through his youth and his changing relationships with Mozart, with God and with himself. It’s a role which requires excitement, confusion, envy, murderous rage and despair- all in the space of 100 minutes.

A tall order, and Morris delivered. His performance was understated and self-controlled, giving the moments when he boiled over real gravitas. Vocally, he managed to handle biting asides and sensuous reveries with equal skill, impressively orchestrating the action throughout.

Photographs by Amelia Garnett

He was supported by a mostly strong cast: Dominic Biddle and James Evans, as the Venticellos, were wonderfully camp and gossipy, commenting on the action with real spirit. Fred Maynard and Craig Nunes also deserve praise, fleshing out rather one-dimensional characters with impressive energy and fine comic timing.

Unfortunately, these efforts were undercut by a somewhat weak central couple: Mozart (Sam Curry) and Constanze (Juliet Griffin) were both very good at giggling, but not much else.

Griffin hobbled an otherwise apt performance with an annoying inability to decide which accent to use, while Curry never quite managed to move his character from flouncing petulance into genuine delusion and despair. Although Curry is funny and convincing at playing Mozart in his sillier moments, whenever the script demanded more grave emotion the performance fell flat.

Visually, the play was as appealing as Salieri’s sweets. Becca Lockhart did a fantastic job with the Old Labs. Her set was clean, white and relatively sparse, with drapery, portraits and lots of wine bottles lending an air of Italian decadence. Piano stools were seamlessly manoeuvred to create the royal Court, opera houses, private rooms and a slum street.

Likewise, the sound texture of the play was suitably rich: whispers through the backstage wall effectively symbolised Salieri’s descent into suicidal madness, and the music was pleasing or oppressive as required.

Inevitably there were a few first-night hitches: the arrangement of the set meant that late-arriving audience members had to scuttle across the stage to get to their seats. Also, an agonisingly long missed cue at the start of the second act got the audience giggling anxiously, but it was well handled: the tardy Venticellos rushed on-stage to an improvised reproach of “you’re late” from Salieri.

Framed between midnight and dawn on the night of Salieri’s death, Amadeus is a real feast for the eyes, and directed and paced so well that the audience will make allowances for its length. Salieri opens with this invitation: “I present to you, for one night only, my last composition”. Well, lucky for you it’s not one night only, it actually runs till Sunday.