Director Michael Longhurst’s 2016 production of Peter Shaffer’s iconic play is a stunning piece of theatre starring Lucian Msamati as Salieri alongside Adam Gillen as Mozart with the musicians of Southbank Sinfonia cleverly weaved into the action providing live accompaniment to the story.
We begin at Salieri’s end as he recalls the almost Faustian bargain he made with God at the age of sixteen: to become a fêted and famous composer in exchange for living a virtuous life and honouring God at every turn. Fast forward to 1881 Vienna and all Salieri’s dreams have come true in the court of Emperor Joseph II (Tom Edden).
But nobody expected Mozart. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. A rowdy young prodigy who arrives with his wife to be, Constanze (Karla Crome), determined to leave his mark Whilst the conservative Vienna and its array of cleverly caricatured officials (Alexandra Mathie, Hugh Sachs, Geoffrey Beeves, Andrew MacBean, and Everal A Walsh) aren’t perhaps ready for his ridiculous talent intertwined with tears and tantrums, Salieri is the one who can truly appreciate his genius.
And he’s not happy one little bit. Armed with the power as court composer to make or break Mozart, Salieri, ridden by obsessive jealousy, begins a war with Mozart, with music, and ultimately with God, as the next very Machiavellian ten years see this very human drama play out up to Mozart’s untimely death in 1791.
The story is helped on its way with Shaffer’s Venticelli, the mini-chorus-cum-narrators, of Sarah Amanwah and Hammed Animashaun, and the delightful voices of Teresa Salieri (mezzo-soprano Wendy Dawn Thompson), Katherina Cavalieri (soprano Fleur de Bray), Salieri’s cook (bass-baritone Peter Willcock) and valet (tenor Eamonn Mulhall) as key moments from Mozart’s and Salieri’s works are played with the bustling orchestra that swarm around Salieri evoking the hustle of the music capital of the world in a set designed by Chloe Lamford and rich in detail, costume, and colour.
But for the whole to work – dialogue, music, and effects including the shadowy figures that dance around Salieri’s mind – then sound and lighting are a must and both are addressed so wonderfully by Paul Arditti and Jon Clark that your imagination is completely taken over, particularly when combined with the theatrical performances of the hugely talented young ensemble that make up the Southbank Sinfonia (Violins: Ruth Elder, Zanete Uskane, Douglas Harrison, Minsi Yang; Viola: Jennifer MacCallum, Dan Shilladay; Cello: Patrick Tapio Johnson, Angélique Lihou; Bass: Giuseppe Cirasso Calì; Flute: Simon Gilliver; Oboe: Anna Turmeau, Helen Clinton; Clarinet: Oliver Pashley, Kimon Parry; Bassoon: Andrew Watson, Éanna Monaghan; Horn: Brendan Parravicini, Laetitia Stott; Trumpet: Sarah Campbell; Timpani: Beth Higham-Edwards; Fortepiano played by Matthew Scott.)
All the cast excel but ultimately it comes back to our two protagonists. Gillen performs with great physicality, perfectly capturing the pathological genius who fascinates and repels in equal measure.
Msamati’s Salieri is the star of the show, if not the title of the piece, who has us in the palm of his hand throughout and despite the fact that his actions and behaviour are reprehensible, we sort of understand why he does what he does as, evoking our sympathy, he – and we – come to realise that wealth and fame are not all they’re cracked up to be when the green-eyed monster stops you from enjoying them.
This is a play about jealousy, and it doesn’t end well, but you won’t worry about that when you’re watching it as you’ll be too enthralled and entertained to care.
Amadeus is the last National Theatre at Home production shown during the lockdown. It is available to view until 23rd July 2020 at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FaEP2zn4bRE
Reviewer: Mark Davoren
Reviewed: 16th July 2020
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★