By Peter Shaffer
Directed by Michael Longhurst
Designed by Chloe Lamford
Choreography by Imogen Knight
Olivier Theatre, National Theatre
Tuesday February 28th, 14.00
Lucian Msamati – Antonio Salieri
Adam Gillen – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Karla Crome – Constanze Weber (later Mrs Mozart)
Hammad Animashaun – Venticelli
Sarah Amankwah – Venticelli
Tom Edden – Emperor Joseph II
Alexandra Mathie – Count Johan Killan Von Strack
Hugh Sachs – Count Franz Orsini-Rosenberg
Geoffrey Beevers – Baron Gottfried Van Swieten
Fleur de Bray – (soprano) Katherina Cavalieri
Wendy Dawn Thompson – (mezzo-soprano) Teresa Salieri
Peter Wilcock – (bass baritone) Salieri’s cook
Eamonn Mulhall – (tenor) Salieri’s valet
Andrew MacBean – Kapellmeister Bonno
Everal A. Walsh – major doom
Citizens / ensemble:
Matthew Hargreaves (bass baritone)
Robyn Allegra Parton (soprano)
Nicholas Gerard Marton
This enters its second calendar year, and is due back again in 2018 after a rapturous reception. We loved the Chichester production of Amadeus in 2014, with Joshua McGuire as Mozart. (LINKED). That stopped us booking this one early probably, so we had to wait for a second release of tickets. Amadeus is one of the few modern plays which we have seen twice in a few years. You do it all the time with Shakespeare, but rarely with recent stuff. Peter Shaffer’s play has special status as Paul Schofield, Ian McKellan, David Suchet and Rupert Everett have all been Salieri on stage. Now it’s Lucian Msamati’s turn, after a fine Iago a couple of years ago at the RSC.
Salieri fronts a huge cast of actors, opera singers and musicians
It had its first run at The National Theatre in 1979 (Simon Callow and Felicity Kendal as Mr and Mrs Mozart) and is revived. The National Theatre’s USP on this one is having a twenty-one piece orchestra, the Southbank Sinfonia, on stage throughout, plus six opera singers. Not only that but every musician onstage has to react, sway, bend, form tableaux with the actors. As well as the expected Mozart set pieces, they provide dissonant comment on the action. With the constant set changing, chair moving etc it is superbly choreographed. It’s a massive production, ideally suited to the huge Olivier Theatre stage. The music is stunning, and they’re not afraid to put a loud timpani beat over Mozart’s music, nor to add a bass track.
Salieri (Lucian Msamati) narrates his confession to the audience
We found it very different to Chichester’s recent 5 star production, the variation being a tribute to the intrinsic quality of the play. Msamati’s Salieri was visceral, loud, but constrained compared to Everett’s suave poisonous smoothie last time around. They both work. Msamati can slip into strong Italian, but generally sounds African. Salieri is a man whose mediocre composing talent is thrown into relief by the arrival of Mozart’s genius, but ironically only Salieri realises this gulf, Worse, Salieri had not been aware of his limitations until Mozart arrived. Salieri sets out to undermine him. History had Salieri rumoured as the poisoner of Mozart. This Salieri realises that the rumour is his only route to immortality.
The Magic Flute (Mozart in fur coat)
The key musical moment is when Salieri composes a march for the arrival of Mozart, who remembers it in entirety by ear in one playing, then riffs on it, improvises on it and vastly improves on it. The final insult is incorporating the theme into The Magic Flute, totally transformed into magnificence. The omnipresent orchestra are so important in all this. Last time we saw the play we wanted “More Mozart music and louder” and here we got it. The Magic Flute is the key plot hinge … Salieri persuads Mozart to incorporate Masonic ritual into a “vulgar opera” thus having him eschewed by all the Freemasons … i.e. the court.
Mozart at the keys (Adam Gillen)
Adam Gillen’s Mozart channeled Malcolm McLaren 1977 with his blonde spikey punky hair, vastly over-bright clothes and pink Doc Marten boots. This was a jerky, gurning, farting, constantly twitchy, incredibly obnoxious and annoying speedfreak Mozart, more abrasive but equally funny in part one,. And equally tragic in part two. We know from contemporary accounts that Mozart was foul-mouthed, though every review this time embraces the expression “potty-mouthed” which I’d consider 100% American. Nothing wrong with a good old British foul-mouthed. Mozart was precocious and a genius, but also an arrogant prat, and all too easily gulled by the less-musically gifted, but far more political Salieri. Salieri is not a simple villain, he feels guilt, and the play is bookended in both halves by his confession head onto the audience … and he involves the front rows too.
Konstanz (Karla Crome smacks Mozart (Adam Gillen)’s botty.
Karla Crome’s Konstanz, wife of Mozart, is instantly appealing. Just a tad estuary (she was in The Misfits), unimpressed by the grandeur around her. Quite capable of dealing with Salieri’s creepy advances … advances which are about power and revenge rather than passion or lust. Salieri is ashamed of himself too, which Msamati brings out.
Emperor Joseph II (Tom Edden) and Salieri
The courtiers and Emperor Joseph II are all beautifully played. The writing makes Joseph’s character so clear … we almost felt it was the same actor as last time in Chichester (it wasn’t). Great lines. Tom Edden who played Joseph gave one of the funniest performances of the decade as the tottering waiter, Alfie, in One Man Two Guv’nors.
The Venticelli: Sarah Amankwah, Salieri (Lucien Msamati), Hammad Animashaun
The Venticelli (little winds) are Salieri’s personal gossips and rumour mongers, the vehicle to spread the story.
The sumptuous costume shifts between modern (mainly the orchestra) and 18th century Vienna, starting and ending more or less in the present day.
Peter Shaffer died in June 2016, aged 90. Sadly he never got to see this production, which takes his virtues and intent in creating theatre work full of physical action, mime, tableaux, music, and adds a full level of intensity above its origins.
WHAT THE PAPERS SAID:
Domenic Cavendish, Daily Telegraph *****
Michael Church, The Independent *****
Natasha Tripney, The Stage *****
Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out *****
Michael Billington, Guardian ****
Ian Shuttleworth, Financial Times, ****
Henry Kithings, Evening Standard ****
LINKS ON THIS BLOG:
AMADEUS by Peter Shaffer
Amadeus Chichester Festival Theatre, 2014
Measure for Measure RSC 2012
She Stoops To Conquer – Bath