Well, there it is: Amadeus hits all the right notes


BY now you are bound to have seen or maybe even read entirely, several reviews of Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus which is on at Theatre On The Bay, starring Alan Committie and Aidan Scott. I very much doubt if any of them are bad or mediocre reviews. I am sure they are all excellent.

Like Beverley Brommert writing it is “a theatrical tour de force in every way” for Weekend Special. Tom Eaton posted on Facebook: “Beautifully staged, intensely and intelligently acted, and another delicious descent into villainy by Alan Committie…” I’m waiting for Keith Bain’s review which I’m sure will be a joy to read. In the meantime I shall do my best to convey my own positive feelings.

The villainy Eaton is referring to is most like Committie’s portrayal of Richard III; in Amadeus he plays the role of Antonio Salieri, composer in the court of the Austrian Emperor Joseph II. With a love of music since childhood, Salieri strikes a deal with God – his life and unwavering piety in exchange for fame as a composer. Things tick along quite nicely until the entrance of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a prodigy but also a hedonistic boor. Salieri is deeply offended by Mozart’s behaviour, and beset by professional (and personal) jealousy which leads him to systematically perpetrate great evil upon Mozart, driving him to madness. Ultimately he claims to have murdered Mozart.

First of all, Shaffer’s script is mesmerising – what exquisite words, a melody in themselves, and Committie speaks them so beautifully. Theatre audiences always make murmurs of noise, little coughs, throat clearing, the rustle of sweet papers perhaps. Not this one: there was utter silence throughout. We hung on every line. The play opens with an old Salieri, who introduces the story he is about to tell before shrugging off his coat and hat and assuming the upright posture of a younger, stronger man.

Aidan Scott as Mozart is superb, a manic foil to Salieri’s seriousness. He’s all over the place, giggling, chasing girls, spewing finished pieces of music, symphonies and operas all over the place. The first half of the play draws you in with humour and irreverence, while the second will take you down dark paths travelled by Salieri and Mozart.

There is no question that Salieri was Not A Nice Guy, but in this instance you can find some sympathy for him, and his own tragedy, as once more a hunched old man, he brings his tale to a close. I asked Committie if it was a deliberate decision to play down the pure evil of the character and to engender these gentler feelings towards him. “It is tragic,” he said. “A man with a pious devotion to God who has a crisis of faith brought on by his own ‘vaulting ambition’.

“He chooses to act on his jealousy and try to destroy Mozart. But his deep seated Catholic views still compel him to seek ‘absolution’ in his confession. He is a man tormented by his constant fluctuation between his envious rage and wanting to be a servant to the absolute (in this case, music). Geoff [Hyland] and I think it’s more interesting to not play him as just evil. He is a man who gets caught up in evil (“In 10 years of this unrelenting spite, I had destroyed myself”).

“For me, he is a very different villain to a Richard III who thrives and revels in his evilness. His driving force is not to destroy another but to avoid being seen as a mediocre. The destroying of another is merely the means to that end. So, I would argue he is not intrinsically evil.”

The rest of the cast assume multiple roles to complement Salieri and Mozart, Committie and Scott, on a stage stripped completely of anything extraneous, like the wings; everything takes place in front of you (costume changes for example) but so compelling is the action you don’t even notice these transitions. In fact, I’d go see it again just to observe when Committie actually comes on. I adored the costumes too – suitable to the era but distinctly modern as well. Just gorgeous.

Award winning director Geoffrey Hyland helms this production, with his team including Illka Louw (costume designer), Tineill Tredoux (costume coordinator), Oliver Hauser (lighting); Nadine Minnaar (scenic elements) and Gideon Lombard (sound design).

Hyland explains, “Directing one of the world’s great classic plays, and finding a fresh way to tell that story to a contemporary audience, is a dream challenge for me as a director. My great joy is to work with the actors – in this case, a stellar cast headed by the inimitable Alan Committie – and shape their offerings into a compelling account of genius and jealousy.”

Amadeus is presented by Gloucester Productions in partnership with Carolyn Steyn and Siv Ngesi and with permission by Concord Theatricals Ltd.

Some background: This Tony award-winning play was first staged in 1979 and has had numerous productions presented all over the world since then, including a staging at the Alhambra Theatre in Johannesburg in 1981. An Oscar award-winning movie followed in 1984. All the elements are present for an unforgettable theatrical experience: suspense, comedy, rousing music and intriguing characters.

Fun fact: Rock Me Amadeus by Falco is not in this show. Originally recorded in German, the song is about Mozart, his popularity and his debts. A longer version (eight minutes), named the “Salieri Mix”, appeared on the initial US release of the album Falco 3. The song was inspired by the movie Amadeus.

  • Amadeus runs at Pieter Toerien’s Theatre On The Bay until 18 May, 2024.
  • Performances are Tuesdays – Fridays at 7.30pm, and Saturdays at 3pm and 7.30pm.
  • Ticket prices range from R180 – R300 and bookings are via Webtickets, selected Pick ‘n Pay outlets or by calling the theatre box office on 021 438 3301.
  • Discounts for students and senior citizens apply.
  • For group bookings contact Dean Roberts at [email protected], or call (021) 438 3300/1.
  • The duration of the show is two hours plus a 20-minute interval.
  • Age restriction: PG12.

Photos by Keaton Ditchfield

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