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PREVIEW: EUTCO’s Amadeus, Northcott Theatre 6-9 Feb
THE Exeter University Theatre Company (EUTCO) prepare to excel themselves in ambition with their highly individual staging of Peter Shaffer’s award-winning Amadeus. Expect grandiloquence, lavish period costume, soaring live music and jokes about anilingus and erectile dysfunction.
Shaffer’s play, famously adapted for screen (with Oscars to boot) by Miloš Forman, dramatises the life of Mozart from the perspective of rival composer Antonio Salieri. Fiercely jealous of the young prodigy, the latter is played with startling intensity by George Watkins in the EUTCO production. A dynamic force in a staging that dextrously melodramatises the character’s heinousness, his spittle-ridden soliloquies nevertheless beg for some light relief. Luckily this comes in refreshing bagfuls from Ryan Whittle’s Mozart and a stellar cast of minor characters. There are plenty of wisecracks and not-so-double entendres – in a humour that the play’s stuffy institutional characters would undoubtedly call ‘vulgar’ – delivered and chin-wobblingly sputtered at in comic perfection. The brilliantly camp Masons and their clashes with Mozart form Amadeus’ most amusing points. Nevertheless, Whittle’s madcap giggling is impressively overshadowed by his own fragile emoting in the darker second act, diversifying an atmospheric palate that keeps the play very much about the drama, as well as the music.
However, the music is the drama – something director Josh Lucas is determined to present on a complex, large scale. Including performances from the choral society and orchestra, alongside a 26-strong ensemble cast and a necessarily expensive set of props and costume (rumours of £1000 expenditure floated around the rehearsal), the production’s logistical challenges seem daunting. Despite this, Lucas and the production team appear to be making the best of it, channeling necessary divergences from an ideal staging of the play into exciting takes on its themes. For example, music within the narrative of the play will be pre-recorded to separate it from the orchestra and choir’s live performances, which represent music in the characters’ minds and outside the story. Additionally, EUTCO are staging original ensemble pieces, where visibly modern versions of Mozart’s operas prance around period-dressed 18th century characters. “We wanted to show how persistently relevant Mozart is today – his music is everywhere”, says Lucas.
An incredibly ambitious take on a play already vast in its scope, EUTCO’s Amadeus will be an inevitably grand affair, backed up by stellar performers and intelligent staging. All that remains to be seen is how all the pieces come together in February at the Northcott.