Amadeus / The Tempest

(4MBS Festival of Classics)


Professional production

This isn’t really a review, because the 4MBS production of Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus was not a full production in the conventional sense. But I want to say something about it, because it’s an example of the way that live theatre is being kept on the boil in Brisbane, often in unexpected ways.

We don’t expect live theatre from a classical music radio station, but Gary Thorpe is to be congratulated for including live performances of drama in his annual Festival of Classics. The inclusion of theatre works like Amadeus and, as a one-off earlier in the festival, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, is a way of bringing new audiences to love theatre, in venues that are unconventional and unexpected.

The Concert Hall stage, where I saw The Tempest last weekend, is a case in point. It’s not the ideal space for live drama, as the acoustic was never designed to accommodate it, but how often do we get the chance to see important plays like this in performance? The Queensland Theatre Company gave us a fully-staged Tempest a few years ago, so we’re not likely to see it again for a while, and that fiendishly elaborate set would have cost an enormous amount.

But the play works almost as well with the simply staging that it got in the Concert Hall, with a few lengths of coloured silks doubling and tripling as various locations, and I’d rather see The Tempest like this than not at all, even if Bille Brown didn’t have the chance to learn his lines fully. Still, he hammed the role of Prospero up very wittily, and brought out the selfish side of what is really a nasty old man, while the production emphasised the often-ignored anti-colonial nature of the play, with the wickedness of his treatment of Caliban, dispossessed of his own territory, well to the fore.

The interpretation of Prospero was underlined by Eugene Gilfedder’s compelling portrayal of Caliban, whose own evil intentions towards Miranda can be excused in the light of his treatment by the colonial tyrant. “You taught me language,” cries Caliban, “and my profit on’t is, I know how to curse!” I’d love to see an Australian version of this play one day, with Caliban played by an indigenous actor. Wouldn’t it be great to see Kooemba Jdarra take it on as a project.

But back to Amadeus. This production, being a repeat of last year’s, was more tightly directed, and thus more effective. Ruth Bonetti reviewed it for in May last year, and I concur with everything she said, so rather than reinvent the wheel, I refer you to her review.

I’d just like to applaud 4MBS, and the inspired team of actors who made Shaffer’s play come alive again, for what they are doing to give us alternative ways of seeing live theatre, and in a musical context that’s totally appropriate, and lifts the play to an even higher dimension.

So congratulations to Eugene Gilfedder (again) for his mind-blowing Salieri, to Tama Matheson who takes on the difficult dual jobs as director and the role of Mozart (with not too many inane giggles, and for this relief, much thanks), for Kerith Atkinson for her sexy little Constanze, and for those Brisbane stalwarts of the stage, Steven Tandy, Sasha Janowicz, Nick Backstrom, Brett Heath, and Nicole Dennington and Dragitsa Debert as the venticelli, all of whom, in the tight little world of professional theatre in this state, don’t get as much work as they deserve.

Let’s have more of this off-Broadway kind of theatre in Brisbane, for all kinds of reason for example, it was the first time I’d ever seen the mysterious world and magnificent architecture of the Masonic Lodge. Who knows maybe we can have The Magic Flute produced there next year. After all, you can’t get a more Masonic work of art than that.

Director Tama Matheson

Lighting Nick Rowland

Music Co-ordinator Raymond Lawrence

Played 24 and 26 May 2007, final performance Saturday 2 June at 3pm

Duration : about 3 hours, with one interval

— Alison Cotes
(Performance seen: Wed 23rd May 2007)