Paul Johnson | 17 Nov 2023 00:39am
Rehearsal photo: Steven Lippitt.
Under Ian Higham’s safe and assured directorship, Putney Theatre Company has pulled out all the stops to produce Peter Shaffer’s brilliant, ficticious version of the young life, although tragically cut short, of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Amadeus was of course turned into an Oscar-winning film in 1985 (1984’s work) where F. Murray Abraham, who played the envious Antonio Salieri, won the Best Actor accolade. Tom Hulce as the young composer missed out although he was nominated for the same prize as Abraham. I saw this play once before, several years ago and upon watching it again in Putney this week I was reminded that it is all about Salieri – featuring the childish Mozart throughout. So it is little wonder where the Oscar went.
That said, Paul Dineen as the aging Court Composer to Joseph II of Austria turns in an outstanding portrayal of a man racked with guilt at the hand he allegedly played in Mozart’s demise. Was he poioned? Was it syphilis?… one thing is for sure – he didn’t die of natural causes on 5 December 1791 according to the exhumation and examination which followed. But it probably wasn’t at the hand of Salieri either. Makes a great play though, Shaffer. The way Dineen drifts in and out of Salieri’s native Italian is sublime.
Nathan Chatelier, as the young genius of the title, is equally excellent letting out that immature laugh when required. The way he descends towards death at the end is powerful stuff. Emily MCormick is also divine as Mozart’s other half, Constanze. A beautifully under-played role. You can really see the pair as a couple and what drew them together. Higham is blessed with a great cast but let us not forget that a great director always make his job look easy. The more talented your cast, the more you doen’t need to coach in how to act; you just need to gently push, or pull, them in the right direction – towards your ultimate vision.
There is quality to be seen throughout the whole company, however. Here is a group that wants to do well. From the audience at the opera to the gossip-mongers after the young composer’s death. It was also nice to see the operas mimed to backing music on 15 November (the night I went). The piano playing too. My only regret is having to dash off as soon as the play ended (it’s quite long). The cast really deserved their plaudits face to face, not just in print.
It is also nice to see that half of PTC’s Artistic Directirship is not afraid to get their hands dirty. Barney Hart Dyke (as well as being the sound designer – no small feat!) was involved in constructing Ian Highman’s set design as well as helping to build the pianos for each side of the stage. Mind you, I’m sure that Cait Hart Dyke (the other 50%) does her fair share too.