Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus begins quietly with whispers of the name ‘Salieri’. Not long ago the National Theatre had London whispering ‘Amadeus’ with its sell-out runs of the play. Star-studded casts originally brought this whisper from the West End in 1979, through Broadway and the Tony Award for Best Play, onto the big screens in 1984 where it won a swarm of awards, including eight Oscars. Across the globe Amadeus opens at the Sydney Opera House next month, and only recently it was announced that a TV series adaptation is in the works. More than four decades after it was written, the word is still on our lips.
Standing on the backs of giants, the busy and ambitious amateur theatre company Sedos presents Amadeus for us at The Bridewell Theatre – and this is no mean feat. It’s an epic, three hour story of revenge and desperation featuring two composers: Antonio Salieri, played by Chris de Pury, and the play’s namesake Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, played by Alex Johnston. There’s a large cast, a long list of pieces of music and absolute shedloads of lines to fit in, so the compact Bridewell was about ready to burst trying to contain this adaptation. I expected this might be an abridged version, but Sedos seems to have the full shebang ready for us, and I have to applaud the cast (whose biographies tell of their day jobs) just to be able to get from one end to the other looking cleanly rehearsed.
Steven King’s set transforms the space into somewhere that invites the story, with sheet music pasted on the floors and walls, and effective costumes by Callum Anderson. Unfortunately, other elements lose some of the polish. The lights occasionally leave in shadow someone I was pretty sure I should be looking at, and the sound still needs some tweaking when there is music and speech at the same time.
The word ‘amateur’ comes with connotations, but this cast hold their own against past performances of Amadeus. Everyone seems to be in exactly the place they need to be at any time, often slickly choregraphed, and the ensemble work is cohesive. The composer performances, by de Pury and Johnston, are both great; full of energy and clearly totally enraptured with the story. However, I wondered at times if the long monologues could allow for a little more contrast and nuance. I also thought it was odd that Salieri has something of an Italian accent as his old self, but not when he is younger. Standing out as faultless, though, is Jamila Jennings-Grant as Mozart’s wife, Constanze, who shines as she tugs our emotions from one side to the other.
Shaffer’s play is a work of genius that doesn’t only appeal to classical music fans (although there’s a few extra moments of wit if you know your 18th-Century bangers), and Sedos should give themselves a big pat on the back for their adept and enjoyable version of it.
Written by: Peter Shaffer
Directed by: Matt Gould
Produced by: Pippa Kyle for Sedos
Set Design by: Steven King
Lighting Design by: Olly Levett
Sound Design by: Adrian Jeakins
Costume Design by: Callum Anderson
Hair and Make-up by: Jobina Hardy
Amadeus plays at Bridewell Theatre until 3 December. Further information and bookings can be found here.