Review: NT Live: Amadeus

A triumphant finale of the free weekly streamed shows from the National Theatre.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is, to most, synonymous with classical music. The composer is widely adored, and his music is often played by students to help them concentrate when pulling an all-nighter or cramming some last minute revision. The play Amadeus, perhaps contrary to what the title may suggest, does not focus entirely on this complicated individual, but rather on Antonio Salieri, the composer creating at the same time as Mozart. This heavily dramatised account acts as part confession and part swan song of the dying artist in his last few hours on earth. The plot is full of activity, though rather simple to follow, as Salieri invites the audience to listen to his tale, the character imagining us as ghosts of the future judging his supposed actions. What we witness is a hard-working and deeply religious man making a name for himself in the Viennese court, yet his outputs are minimised when compared with the works of Mozart.

Photo Credit: Marc Brenner

This 2018 production of the 1979 play by Peter Shaffer (of Equus fame) embraces the metatheatrical nature of the work and draws the audience in from the very beginning. Director Michael Longhurst incorporates the stellar Southbank Symphonia orchestra in the staging, action and the set, reminding us that the play is an interpretive work of art, rather than an accurate historical account. The simple settings, often depicted through a single piece of furniture, or utilising the moveable platform as well as the shrinking semicircle creating an orchestra pit, add to the concept of a faded memory. The setting also makes the most of the vast amphitheatre the Olivier Stage offers, and the recording manages to capture this expanse, while offering a precious proximity to the facial expression of the excellent actors. Lighting, predominantly harsh and angular, and the costumes, which range from historically accurate coats for Salieri to several pairs of fabulous Doc Martens for Mozart, emphasise the prevalent motifs of a skewed past. We are to see Salieri as he sees himself – of his time, and to see Mozart as Salieri remembers him 32 years after he died – rebellious and futuristic.

What struck me most, apart from the expected brilliant musical interludes, were the moments of sheer comedy which I did not expect. The text is as playful as Mozart was himself and Adam Gillen portrays this arrogance and inability to stop himself from saying what he is thinking with an earnestness which inspires compassion. Lucian Msamati plays our biased guide and narrator Salieri, navigating expertly the complex journey of a successful musician and his strained relationship with God. Shaffer’s text focuses heavily on the Latin meaning of Mozart’s middle name Amadeuslove God! Msamati’s performance of a man torn by the expectations of his religion inspires understanding, which is what the character implores the audience to feel. A series of smaller secondary characters come and go, most notable of which is Adelle Leonce’s portrayal of a loving, though critical, Constanze. Overall, though, this is a play about the two giants of the German opera world and the play does not operate as an ensemble piece. The investment of the audience relies entirely on the actors taking on the challenge of Mozart and Salieri and, luckily, we are in safe hands with Gillen and Msamati.

Photo Credit: Marc Brenner

The production is available until this Thursday 23 July, so I highly recommend you schedule a viewing while you still can. This is not one to miss as it offers truly the best of theatre, which is shedding light on and finding new ways to tell stories about what we think we know.

Josip Martinčić

Amadeus is available to stream for free here until Thursday 23 July.

Featured Image Source: Marc Brenner

One thought on “Review: NT Live: Amadeus

  1. Great review! Just wrote about this play for my own blog and whilst I did not enjoy it overall, I agree with you about the integration of orchestral musicians on stage – it was an innovative touch which added much to the production.

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