Woolf’s Whistle At Male Manners
John Larkin, Jason Steger
18 September 1994
A Room of One’s Own, MTC & State Theatre Company of South Australia, Russell Street Theatre, until 1 October, George Fairfax Studio until 8 October; Amadeus, presented by Griffin Entertainment, Athenaeum Theatre, until 12 October.
ACROSS at the Athenaeum, another celebrity is receiving a different treatment, in a new production of Amadeus, which only reinforces the impression of how the play subverts our sacred memory of Mozart. This is despite author Peter Shaffer’s denial that it violates “the specific nature” of the man or the composer.
What he has done is supplant Mozart’s childlike qualities with impressions of brat childishness, which has nothing to do with the wonderful music he produced.
The play is really the story of Salieri, the court composer in Vienna at the end of the 18th century, who craved fame, only to have it eclipsed by Mozart, “a voice of God from the voice of an absurd child”.
Salieri, played by Barry Otto to the heartfelt hilt as vigorous rather than reptilian, is the narrator of this Gothic tale of genius, jealousy, deception, court intrigue, betrayal, and Mozart’s untimely death, which rumor said was brought about by Salieri poisoning him – more likely metaphorically.
The director, Jean-Pierre Mignon, often brings new perceptions to plays -this production for the first time uses Salieri’s music, too – but the extra farce element only exaggerates the essential absurdity of Mozart in this most unworthy study of a most worthy and brilliant musician.
The incongruity of the simpering, anally-preoccupied up-scale village idiot is even more pronounced when measured against Mozart’s music, which upstages the play with its power and beauty.
Rhys Muldoon gives the “creature” of Mozart a certain skittish athleticism, but makes no serious attempt to avoid the basically glib characterisation as laid down by the script. Nadine Garner is generally out of her depth as Mozart’s wife, who suffers with him through his ignoble decline and fall.
Unlike earlier Shaffer plays, and his most recent, The Gift of the Gorgon, this work is not wearing its age well. Nor should it. At least it documents that Mozart wrote his compositions without corrections.
But there is otherwise no way we can match Mozart, as presented, with the music and his purity as a clear channel from the heavens, who once said simply of his work: “I don’t do anything”.