A tremendous production of Peter Shaffer’s classic play of musical rivalry
“What has he done to me? This Mozart.” cries Salleri at the end of Act One, encapsulating the obsessive rivalry that is so present within this Mermaids’ production of Amadeus at the Byre Theatre, directed by Charles Vivian. A historical dramatisation of the rivalry between composers Antonio Salieri and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, narrated by Salieri, Amadeus illustrates the vicious nature that rests behind great classical pieces. The prodigal Mozart’s creation of music with such an ease, in the face of Salieri’s mediocrity, forces him to condemn God for gifting Mozart with this talent.
Deliciously striking is Charlie Flynn’s portrayal of Salieri who delivers their lines with a precise diction that excellently furthers their characterisation of Salieri, particularly his fierce and manipulative nature as he attempts to bring down Iain Lynn’s Mozart. Salieri’s monologues which often include Italian are carried out seamlessly by Flynn who takes the accent in their stride, while reverting back to English, where they emphasise the bitterness that moulds Salieri’s character. Salieri’s monologue at the end of the first act in which he laments the ‘Amadeus’ (Latin for ‘lover of god’ or ‘loved by god’) that threatens his chances of fame is powerfully interpreted by Flynn. With a piercing glare, Flynn heads into a demonic trance as they look straight into the audience amidst an eerie dimly lit stage. It was a standout moment that truly reflected the emotional depth Flynn has intertwined within their interpretation, as they follow in the footsteps of acting royalty such as Ian McKellen.
Equally as convincing was Iain Flynn’s Mozart, whose bouncy character remains out of place within the rigidity of the Austrian court. Flynn’s portrayal was near perfection and their meticulous use of tone and movement aided the sharp decline from Mozart’s ridiculous behaviour to his mental and physical decline. My friend who joined me, a fan of the play, noted that Flynn got Mozart’s laugh spot on, an attribute I must commend given its significance to his humorous character. However, Lynn’s portrayal is not confined to just humour as we also see them emotionally portray the defeatist and wounded nature Mozart adopts as his pioneering compositions fail against the lofty Austrian nobility, exacerbated by the death of his father.
Mozart’s outré behaviour gives the play incredible pace and it was a joy watching Lynn and Emily Speed who plays Constanze, Mozart’s wife on stage together, with their farcical interactions at the start of the play right through to their sincere and raw depiction of Mozart’s final moments. Speed as the childlike, though admittedly strong-willed Constanze was sublime; proving an ideal match for Flynn’s Mozart. Though Speed’s versatility from the genial to the serious was particularly evident in scenes with Salieri, when Constanze is forced to ask him to help the married couple’s monetary issues by raising her husband’s profile. These scenes allow the audience to witness Constanze’s emotional vulnerability, superbly conveyed by Speed’s timid demeanour.
However, one must give a nod to director Charles Vivian who makes effective use of a small stage in a play that is surrounded by the grandeur of 18th century Austria. Vivian’s direction of the ensemble at the beginning of the play as they gradually filled the stage, sinisterly whispering the name: ‘Salieri’, was successful in setting the tone for Shaffer’s piece which is rather dark in places. Their direction of Charles Flynn and Iain Lynn in scenes between Salieri and Mozart, however, must be praised as the exchanges of dialogue between the pair were rapturous and highlighted Salieri’s contempt for Mozart. Vivian’s direction of Flynn as collected and controlled, opting for little movement was sharply juxtaposed by the flighty Mozart (Lynn) who moved across the whole of the stage in comical fashion. In their direction of the classic, Vivian cements their reputation as a well-rounded and precise student director who bravely tackles a play with widespread acclaim. The costumes used within the play also proved effective, given the production budget which often restricts student productions. Costumer Alex Flagg did an impressive job given the extravagance of fashion within the play’s 18th century time period - which was reflected well within the costumes, particularly the wigs. The same must be said for the set, which although minimal, was effective in drawing focus onto the strong characters.
Furthermore, the staging choice of the piano remaining on stage throughout the entirety of the piece, proved a powerful motif which conveyed the instrument as an almost weapon that threatened Salieri’s lust for fame.
Shaffer’s iconic play is admirably taken on board by Mermaids, headed by Charles Vivian and featuring two standout actors who marvellously take on these two lead roles with such gusto that defy student theatre expectations. This play of rivalry between two composers may seem to be a tiring, period drama but I assure you it is a thrilling piece. While I have tried my best, I have found it incredibly difficult to find a fault within this production, which acts as a reminder that student theatre is not to be snubbed.