This January the world celebrates the 250th anniversary of Mozart's
birth. Here in Galway the occasion is marked by a new production of
Peter Shaffer's acclaimed play Amadeus at St. Nicholas's Collegiate
Church next week.
The play looks at Mozart's time in Vienna (ie, the last 10 years
of his life) but does so through the lens of his rival and purported
murderer, Antonio Salieri. An enduring myth implicates Salieri in
Mozart's early death and Shaffer plays with the evolution of these
kinds of rumours. He also examines ideas about religious piety, envy,
facades, and the inscrutability of destiny. All of this while creating
a fascinating portrait of the composer and his would-be nemesis.
The production is directed by Kelly Colleen McMahon, a native of
Pennsylvania, who recently completed the MA in Drama and Theatre studies
at NUIG. Over an afternoon coffee she outlined her thoughts on the
play but began by revealing what brought her to Galway from the US.
"I'd been doing a lot of theatre work around Pittsburgh and I
came to the Galway Arts Festival a couple of years ago as assistant
director on Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre's production of Major Barbara. I got interested in the theatre scene here and
decided to do the MA in NUIG and then work here."
Having explained how she came to Galway Ms. McMahon moves on to discuss Amadeus. Most people probably know it best from the film adaptation,
which garnered numerous Oscar awards when it was released in 1984,
but the stage version is quite different, as McMahon reveals; "The
play is more Salieri's story than Mozart's, Salieri is the one telling
the story. The first part of the play has him inviting the audience
to be his confessors, and in a way we're only seeing what he wants
us to see. I've made one or two changes as well - I've pared the cast
down to nine by removing a couple of non-essential characters. There
are also two women who are spies for Salieri. In the original script
they were men and I think it's interesting to cast them as women."
While stage and screen version share characters and basic plot details,
the theatrical original centres much more on the idea of Mozart (whose
middle name means 'beloved of God') as God's voice on Earth and the
blend of admiration and ire this causes in Salieri. This religious
undercurrent makes St. Nicholas an ideal venue for the play as the
church's atmosphere will augment those themes quite palpably.
"I wanted to do it in a venue like St. Nicholas's," McMahon
explains, "It's a setting that would augment the play even better
than having a conventional stage set because the audience doesn't
just see something interesting, they're within a whole environment
She also has interesting ideas for the play's costume design; "I'm
having period costumes made but I've a specific idea for them. Salieri,
Mozart and Constanze (Mozart's wife) who are the three main characters
are in full colour costumes but the other characters - who are less
important to Salieri - are dressed in shades of black or grey with
just one item of colour to have an iconic effect, eg. the emperor
has a purple suitcoat while the rest of his costume is black."
The cast for this Galway production includes actors from a range
of theatrical organizations in the city including Galway Youth Theatre,
An Taibhdhearc, NUIG's MA in Drama and Theatre Studies and NUIG DramSoc.
The main roles are taken by Patrick Curley as Salieri, Morgan Cooke
as Mozart, and Helen Gregg as the composer's devoted wife, Constanze.
The costume designer is Joan Brennan from Kilkenny.
McMahon's planned future projects include a staging of Arthur Miller's
screenplay The Misfits and of Sam Shepard's poetic piece Savage/Love.
"I'd like to do American plays here," she declares, "but
not the kind of David Mamet and Tennessee Williams works that you
tend to see a lot of. I'd prefer to do ones that aren't so well-known."
First up however is what sounds like a fresh take on the very well-known Amadeus. It runs at St. Nicholas's from January 11 to 14 at