A Great Piece of Theatre – Amadeus Stage Revival Impresses

03/02/2017

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus: National Theatre Live cinema screening, seen in Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 2.2.2017. (SRT)

Adam Gillen as Mozart, photo by Marc Brenner

Adam Gillen as Mozart (c) Marc Brenner

Salieri – Lucian Msamati

Mozart – Adam Gillen

Contanze – Karla Crome

Production by Michael Longhurst

National Theatre, London

I haven’t come across Peter Shaffer’s original version of Amadeus for years. Miloš Forman’s film is de rigeur, of course, but it’s very different to the 1979 text, and seeing it in the current National Theatre production, here broadcast live into the Edinburgh Festival Theatre, reminded me of just what a great piece of theatre it is.  His casting of Mozart and Salieri as equal yet opposite is a stroke of genius. The two composers exert an unstoppable gravitational pull on one another as Salieri determines to destroy his rival yet ends up lapsing into obscurity himself: in the end, after all, he fails even to feature in the title of his own play.  I loved the line about how Mozart turns the ordinary into legends, while Salieri took legends and made them ordinary, and Mozart’s speech about the nature of opera, all but missing from the film, still thrills me every time I hear it. Only opera can replicate the many strands of conversation occurring simultaneously, and the composer’s job is to turn his audience into God. Brilliant!

The great strength of Michael Longhurst’s production is to place the music towards – but not quite at – the centre of the play by having the musicians of the South Bank Sinfonia performing it live on stage. The text remains central, but it elevates the music exponentially to have it being performed in the flesh, and they do a good job in the context, even if I’d be disappointed to hear ensemble like that in the concert hall.  Lucian Msamati is mesmerising as Salieri, holding the stage brilliantly for the whole evening. As the old man looking back on his life, he toys with whether we should treat him with fear, pity or incredulity, and his transformation from pious benefactor into Mephisto is chillingly convincing. Adam Gillen’s hyperactive, brattish Mozart is rather monochrome for most of the show, becoming wearying because he dials everything up to 11; however, he finds pathos for the final scene, and he makes a great foil. Karla Crome plays Contanze as common, but that works well, and the cast of minor characters are all drawn well, particularly those around the court.

This is the first of the National Theatre Live screenings that I’ve seen, and the first time I’ve experienced the big proscenium of the Festival Theatre used for a cinema screening. I must say it worked very well, despite some early glitches and an irritating lack of synchronicity between picture and sound at the start of the evening.  There’s a definite touch of class to screenings like this, and I expect that doing a play like this brought in the musical crowd (like me) who wouldn’t normally rush to one.

Simon Thompson

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