When the Sheffield Crucible enters the next stage of a huge re-development in the new year, its vast stage will go dark for 18 months, leaving a gaping hole in Yorkshire’s cultural landscape.
Since Michael Grandage arrived as Artistic Director, a space perhaps best known as the home of the World Snooker Championships has become one of the most vibrant producing theatres in the country – work continued by Sam West.
It seems important, then, that this last production before the temporary closure – Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus – is one to be proud of. The producers at the Crucible appear to be aware that this is a special moment, as they have brought together a cast and crew that regular attendees will recognise.
Directing is Nikolai Foster, who spent three years at the Crucible as Resident Director, and whose work there – including a wonderful production of the Sondheim musical Assassins – I have always enjoyed. The two lead roles are also taken by actors who are no strangers to Sheffield: Mozart himself is played by Bryan Dick, who appeared in the Crucible production of Lear, and Gerard Murphy, seen in Assassins, plays Antonio Salieri.
As always seems to be the case at the Crucible, the look of this production is stunning. As an elderly Salieri recounts his younger years as court composer, tortured by Mozart’s precocious talent, the decadence of 18th century Vienna is evoked, without being an assault on the eyes; a host of burning candles hang above the action throughout, giving the feel of intimate parlours.
During the first half, however, I was concerned that the style of the production wasn’t entirely matched by the content. It has been pointed out in other reviews that the complaint made in this play about Mozart’s work – that there are ‘two many notes’ – brings to mind the fact that this play may just contain ‘too many words’, and I have to admit that at times I found myself thinking the same thing. The first half, as beautiful as it looked, often lacked pace.
But things improved massively after the interval. For a start, things could not stay disappointing for long in the hands of the two lead actors. Dick has already shone both on stage and on screen, and he has proved his talent again here. As the young Wolfgang, he is both immature, irritating and far too sure of himself, and yet at the same time somehow utterly mesmerising. When the established composer Salieri plays him a little march on the piano, Mozart can instantly recall it, and instantly improve on it. Giggling as he improvises, Mozart clearly has no idea of the torture he is inflicting on Salieri.
This torture is portrayed as a physical pain by Murphy. The irony is that, after being universally praised as a child, Mozart actually fell out of favour as he grew up, and Salieri was the one who gained all the plaudits. But no amount of fame or fortune can appease Salieri: precisely because of his own musical talent, he can appreciate Mozart’s, and it is killing him.
Amadeus poses the question of whether Salieri actually killed Mozart, as he himself asserted at the end of his life, and states that no, he didn’t deliver the poison, but he actively made life as hard as possible for the young maestro. As Salieri’s crusade against Mozart becomes more and more reprehensible, the pace quickens, and as such our interest also increases – it makes for an uneven night, but at least the trajectory is upwards.