There’s no need to be a classical music buff to be utterly gripped by Peter Shaffer’s play about the ferocious rivalry between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Italian composer Antonio Salieri.
First staged in 1979 in this very theatre, Amadeus was an instant hit and scooped eight Oscars when it was made into a movie in 1984. Shaffer died in June so missed out on this homecoming, adding a poignant note to the National’s lavish revival.
It opens with Salieri as an old man, shrieking the name of his long-dead rival and apparently confessing to his murder. He then rewinds the action almost half a century to when he was an ambitious court composer and Mozart was a newcomer in Vienna, a cocksure 25-year-old whose prodigious reputation precedes him.
Salieri is a mighty role and Lucian Msamati puts in a mighty performance. Wracked by jealousy, his Salieri is pitiable, relatable and repulsive by turns, as he plots the child prodigy’s downfall.
Lucian Msamati as Antonio Salieri; above, Karla Crome as Constanze Weber and Adam Gillen as Mozart (photos by Marc Brenner)
Yet it’s Adam Gillen’s Mozart who almost steals the show: a hyperactive, obnoxious brat, utterly assured in his genius. It’s easy to see why he’s so repugnant to Salieri and Vienna’s conservative courtiers. He’s also a saucy devil with a taste for the scatological. But the best thing about Gillen’s virtuoso performance are the glimpses of Mozart’s tender, vulnerable side. Karla Crome is also superb as his feisty, long-suffering wife, who wears flamboyant frocks and gives almost as good as she gets.
As befits a play about one of the greatest composers of all time, the music is wonderful and the Southbank Sinfonia is a key part of the action. The orchestra is on stage much of the time, playing extras as well as providing the soundtrack, which skips seamlessly from Mozart’s greatest hits to pumping party tracks.
At nearly three hours long, Amadeus is an epic tale but director Michael Longhurst never lets the action flag and wrings every drop of emotion from Shaffer’s dark script. I for one will never listen to Mozart in quite the same way again.
Amadeus is at the Olivier Theatre until 1st February 2017. On 2nd February, it will be broadcast live to over 680 screens around the UK. See ntlive.com