Camden Fringe 2019
‘The Mozart Question’ is a one-man play based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo, adapted by Simon Reade. In this production, British/Indian director Lata Nobes changes the character’s gender and utilises projections, sound effects, and live music. The piece is performed by Olivia Wormald.
Paola is a famous violinist, but in her entire career, she has never performed Mozart. The time has come for this to change; on her 50th birthday, she will finally do so. But the reason she took so long is a dark family secret that she is now ready to come to terms with. ‘The Mozart Question’ explores issues surrounding music and the Holocaust.
The stage is beautifully arranged with minimal, but effective furniture: a table and a couple of chairs. Downstage is a violin case – open. Paola (Olivia Wormald) walks in. She puts the kettle on and proceeds to get her violin ready. She then takes a few leaves of mint and places them in her mug before pouring over the hot water. It all feels so real, it’s as if we are observing her through a keyhole. Her mannerisms, the way she takes care or her violin and preps her tea, already giving us an impression of who this person is.
The quality of this production is very high and everything seems to have been given a lot of thought and care. The staging and direction are excellent. The wonderful stop-motion animations projected high up on the back wall add another dimension to the storytelling. Wormald’s violin playing is absolutely beautiful. Every sound effect and change in lighting is used effectively and besides all the different components and cues the show runs completely smoothly. Nobes and the rest of the team have created something completely magical.
This is honestly a very high-level production and there was only one thing that kept it from being outstanding. Performing a one-person show is extremely demanding. It takes a lot to keep the audience focused and captivated for forty minutes, both from the performer and the director. And unfortunately, this wasn’t quite achieved.
The main reason was that Wormald’s performance was very calm and contained throughout the whole piece. Although truthful it needed to be more dynamic, really find the moments when things can happen quicker or louder, heavier, lighter, funnier, angrier – the changes within her character and especially the differences when portraying the other characters. The nature of the play sets up a trap for this. It is essentially Paola narrating us her story and so performing it as a storytelling piece makes sense, but it is not enough to keep the audience on their toes or to really communicate the story and the themes. We need Paola to feel what she is saying to us, to really be in the moment when she re-enacts conversations and to relive her memories rather than narrate them. Right now the performance has only one layer, which yes, it is truthful, but it is not enough. But more can be built on it.
There are already the beginnings of this in place. There were some moments that a different dynamic shone through and they were truly captivating. For example when Wormald portrays nine-year-old Paola getting excited or scared and really embodies what it felt like when that memory was made. We just need moments like this throughout.
It is a very elaborate production and it really has the potential to be outstanding. This is a wonderful piece with very sensitive and intriguing themes and it has been treated with care. Now it is time for Nobes and Wormald to sit together and flesh out the character, look for what the memories mean to her and communicate this to the audience. If they can do this they may well end up with the best production of this play to ever be performed. So well-done for what they have achieved so far and good luck for what they set to achieve next.