Mozart was a big kid. Tearing through the corridors of power in pursuit of cake, cocking a snook at the courtiers of Vienna, laughing his head off at the slightest thing, and hiding under pianos with his girlfriend. He was the original nightmare child who never grew up.
I’m mainly basing this knowledge on having seen Amadeus, Peter Shaffer’s play which presents us with a wonderfully selfish and flamboyant version of the prolific composer. Making him the perfect character to put at the centre of a circus show.
It’s a shame then that this one starts so slowly.
Waiting for her guests to arrive at a birthday party, a woman decides to throw some Mozart on the record player, and lo and behold, the child prodigy himself appears before her. At first he toys playfully with a few notes, but gradually loses his rhythm, at which point, the woman intervenes to help him to find his inspiration once more.
The first sequence in which the hardest working man in classical music does appear is a bit of a non-starter. They dance around one another for a bit in the dark, and he stands on her shoulders, but its not really enough to hook an audience of three year olds and up – and their parents – into the idea of Mozart’s big top takeover.
He disappears, and her friends still haven’t arrived so she turns the vinyl over, and ten long minutes into the show, it explodes into life.
Wolfgang hurtles on to the stage cycling a fixed wheel bike wearing only his pants and socks. Brilliant. The young people in the audience are in fits. This is what we came to see.
True to form, he refuses to get off his bike in order to dress himself, and so proceeds to cycle around the stage as he is passed his vibrant pink coat and trousers. He cycles with one foot, no hands, he stands on the seat and handlebars, and ultimately manages to do a complete circuit riding the bike vertically like a unicycle.
Typical Mozart. The precocious genius who wants all the attention. It isn’t long before he is conducting our applause – manipulating the audience for his own gratification.
There are some other lovely moments in this show, like when Mozart can’t find his spotlight. He chases it round the space, trying desperately to be seen by the audience, but the spot has a mind of its own. Its zigzags out across the audience, lighting up the laughing faces of children, as other young people raise their arms. They want to be seen too.
These are the moments when the character really sings, and proves what a good fit he is for the circus. But the thing that lets the show down is the story. For all Wolfgang’s playful inquisitiveness of his fellow performer, its not really clear what their relationship is or who is helping who.
She has essentially fallen down a rabbit hole and met her idol, but like so many of the muses of history, she ends up merely facilitating his genius rather than challenging him or forming much of a bond.
There’s loads of acrobatics, plenty of flips and somersaults in the show, but young people are incredibly astute when it comes to reading stories, and this great material could be served to them better.
Wolfgang is on at Underbelly Circus Hub until 26 August 2018. Click here for more details.