Anna Peel and Roxanne Armfield think that this classical music drama is too hot to Handel and they’d certainly go Bach.
“Goodness means nothing in the furnace of art,” says Salieri at the climax of the first act of the ADC’s Amadeus; he is, of course, referring to the crudely capering Mozart and his paradoxical genius.
The play itself is both good and artful, the beautiful set of Jonah Coe-Scharff serving as a cleanly angled platform for the tragic story of Salieri (Joe Spence) and Mozart (Tim Vaughan).
The play begins at the end, with Salieri in the last hours of his life, and Spence struggling to find a good balance of accent to play the old Italian (he settled on English, but for a minute or two there I was unsure whether he was going to spend the whole three hours speaking like a confused Italian-English hybrid). Once the tale really got under way, however, Spence inhabited the role with more ease, and even his slightly over-the-top grimacing and gesturing cannot detract from the fact that he played an excellently horrified (and horrifying) Salieri. I would watch the whole play again just for the spectacle of his eyebrows during Mozart’s first demonstration of his prodigious talent at the harpsichord.
Tim Vaughan as Mozart, although he had less stage time than Salieri, was truly the star of the night; his gloriously easy changes of attitude, from the crass, earthy joker to the sublime composer, were a joy to watch, and Emma Blacklay-Piech as his wife Constanze played the ideal companion to both, with grace and humour. Their dynamic onstage (while as over-the-top as the script required) was captivating, even as their characters fell through worse and worse degradations.
The supporting cast was also remarkably strong, with only a few sour notes – I cannot see a good reason for Salieri’s student Catarino to be played in drag, other than as a joke that was not very funny and not in excellent taste; and the Venticelli (Abigail Smith and Gabriel Agranoff), while in excellent time with each other, did not always engage with what they were saying, making their quick-paced chattering often bland; but Sam Knights as Emperor Joseph was reliably hilarious, and Rebecca Cusack as Baron Van Swieten played the role with a comically perfect resting bitchface.
But despite these small quibbles, Amadeus is a gorgeous production, full of wit and tragedy and surpassing music, and one that deserves to be seen by every theatregoer in Cambridge.