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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

AMA-DEUS (article first published : 2002-03-21)

Having watched Joel Zuma’s progress carefully through his drama study years at Technikon Natal, I expected a good performance from him as Salieri in Loud Productions interpretation of Peter Shaffer’s brilliant play Amadeus running in the Playhouse Drama until Saturday. What I did not expect was the stature of his performance: powerful, disciplined, controlled and intelligent.

I know the play well and have performed in it. Therefore I fully appreciate what is required from the actors playing the main roles of respected court composer Antonio Salieri and his arch rival, the profligate and extravagant young musical genius Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Peter Shaffer has exquisitely charted the relationship between these two composers. The play starts with Salieri’s vow to God that he will dedicate his life to service to the Lord in exchange for fame. However, he perceives his Lord to have failed him when the giggling and precocious Mozart - robustly played with nice touches of sensitivity by Rowan Bartlett – bursts onto the scene of the Court of Joseph II and threatens Salieri’s exalted existence. Besides Mozart’s musical brilliance, Salieri’s music fades into insignificance and he single-mindedly sets out to destroy the creator of these astounding works and in the process avenge the God who has rejected him.

Amadeus - titled for this production as Ama-Deus - is a complex and multi-layered play and generally the cast give committed and sustained performances. Much credit is to due to director Luke Holder and his co-director Dawn Harrison for a production that holds the attention right the way through. They make the most of their young cast, many of whom are students.

Instead of two actors playing the Venticelli (“little winds” – Salieri’s informers), they have cast four highly talented children - Roxy Nel, Lexi Strovall-Hare, Kim van den Bergh and Brett Kyd – who appear in as many costume changes as there are scenes for them, which seemed a little excessive!

Mention must also be made of Maxine du Plessis (Constanze Weber), Gareth Els (Count Orsini-Rosenberg) and Ryan Tromp (Baron von Swieten). Menzi Ndledla and Lovemore Ndlovu were suitably convincing as Salieri’s bartender and butler and Ayanda Dlamini is a seductive Katherina Cavalieri. The programme mentions the SA Singers but they certainly weren’t in evidence at the performance I saw.

The opening is overlong and too much time is spent on creating a contemporary atmosphere through a cleverly-mixed soundtrack of symphonic music and disco rock. However, it appears illogical and disturbs the balance and in the second half we are spared this device and Shaffer’s vision is allowed to proceed uncluttered.

At the time when the Playhouse Company is undergoing major retrenchment, it’s good to see a young and vibrant cast showing Durban audiences what good dramatic theatre is all about. I urge you to see it. – Caroline Smart




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