National Theatre, 16th March 2017
dir. Michael Longhurst
Occasionally in life, we are lucky to see pieces of theatre which truly change our outlook on the world. For me, 'Amadeus' is unequivocally one of them. The story, on the surface, could sound relatively bland: it is a play dealing with the adult life and career of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his relationship - or lack thereof - with his contemporary, Antonio Salieri. Except, of course, the play is much, much more than that: a commentary on what it means to be a genius; on what it means to feel inadequate; on what jealousy can drive people to do. It is a masterpiece from Shaffer.
This production is jaw-droppingly magnificent: so much so that, having seen the NT Live broadcast of 'Amadeus', and having slipped the fields of Norfolk on a Thursday afternoon to see it again live, I found myself, with no feelings of guilt whatsoever, travelling to London again on the following Saturday to see the production's closing performance. The whole thing is note perfect, and never misses a beat.
Lucian Msamati's performance is spellbinding. Considering that considerable chunks of the play are Salieri-driven soliloquies, Msamati's skill holds the whole of the Olivier rapt, and his incredible performance allows the audience to cycle through a huge range of emotions towards Salieri in a remarkably short space of time. There are moments in the production where Salieri's actions draw audible gasps from the audience. His is a truly spell-binding performance.
My favourite performance though has to be Adam Gillen's portrayal of Mozart. Gillen never rests: his Mozart is constantly on the balls of his feet, constantly on the cusp of darting off somewhere. He is unsettled and unsettling, and the gentle anarchy of his performance brings to mind the late, great Rik Mayall. Mozart was a real radical of his time, and it is clear that Gillen hopes to emulate this. He is effervescent and completing beguiling: his Mozart is not just a giggling, simpering, child-like genius but has a real edge to him: he is a character driven not only by his desire to please others but also by his lust for his wife, Constanze (played brilliantly by Karla Crome). We are not driven to dislike Mozart in Gillen's performance: the audience falls steadfastly on his side and remain there until the heartbreaking climax of his story. It is a masterful performance.
One truly magical element of this production, though, is in the music. Mozart's music is brought to life by the Southbank Sinfonia who not only perform the score live on stage each night but become an integral part of the performance, woven into every scene. It is hard to imagine this production without the music, whose swells and troughs mimic the flow of the play itself. There are several 'goosebump' moments, notably when Salieri first hears Mozart's Adagio from his Symphony No. 10 in B Flat. Salieri sits downstage, explaining what he can hear: "On the page it looked nothing. The beginning simple, almost comic. Just a pulse - bassoons and basset horns - like a rusty squeezebox. Then suddenly - high above it - an oboe, a single note, hanging there unwavering, till a clarinet took over and sweetened it into a phrase of such delight!". The audience, though, is treated to Gillen conducting the Sinfonia, the sound sweeping out across the auditorium as it does over Salieri himself. The opera singers, too, are magnificent, and I am still in awe of Fleur de Bray's seemingly effortless performance as Katerina Cavalieri. It is truly beautifully done.
The staging of the production is magnificent too, and the concept of a play-within-a-play is a clever conceit.
I am delighted that 'Amadeus' will be returning to the Olivier in 2018. Casting is yet to be announced, although Lucian Msamati and Adam Gillen are confirmed to be reprising their roles. Tickets are already on sale here.