National Theatre Live
Peter Schaffer’s Amadeus is that rarest of creatures, a celebrated play that went on to become an equally celebrated film.
This 2016 production by the National Theatre, streaming live on YouTube for a limited period, is well worth catching. Lively, vivacious and compelling, it offers a thrilling blend of theatre and music – indeed, I’ve rarely seen an orchestra so perfectly integrated into a performance. They move around the stage with their instruments, performing brilliant renditions of Mozart’s best known work, and are as much a part of the production as the characters in costume, ‘players’ in every sense of the word.
This is, of course, the ‘based-on-fact’ tale of the bitter rivalry between successful-but-mediocre musician Antonio Salieri (Lucian Msamati) and youthful musical prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Adam Gillen). Mozart has newly arrived at the court of Joseph II in Vienna, expecting to be feted by all he meets, but he unwittingly ignites Salieri’s jealousy and enmity by being too talented for comfort. Some historians have questioned the authenticity of Schaffer’s story, but it really doesn’t matter. It’s quite simply a great idea, beautifully realised.
At first, I have some doubts about this particular adaptation. In the opening scenes, Msamati’s grandiloquent and declamatory delivery is a little hard to take but, thankfully, he soon switches to a more naturalistic approach and, from the moment we are introduced to Gillen’s Mozart, the play finds its wings and soars.
Gillen plays the upstart visitor as a hypercharged, twitching bundle of neuroses, coming across as a weird mixture of Rick Mayall and Thing 1(or 2?), seemingly unable to stand still for a moment as he spouts strings of inventive obscenities. He’s an absolute joy to watch, and the calm, still performance of Msamati provides a perfect foil for his talents.
Of course, this is much more than a two-man show. The large cast offer faultless support, as they speed the story headlong from each scene to the next.
Under Michael Longhurst’s direction, this production is both playful and inventive, veering expertly between slapstick comedy and moments of pure poignancy. It’s easy to see why the play has achieved such success and the opportunity to reappraise its considerable charms is surely not to be missed.