Amadeus at the National Theatre Online
While strict lockdown measures are gradually being lifted in the UK, it will still be a while before we get to go to a theatre in person – as such, the National Theatre is presenting its 2016 revival of Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus for free on its YouTube channel. With plenty of smart writing, an ingenious incorporation of Mozart’s angelic music and some stunning performances, this is a spectacular show which – quite rightly – puts music at its centre.
Shaffer’s script is notoriously riddled with historical inaccuracies and is unfair both to Salieri – who was a decent composer and not a murderer – and to Mozart – who was very hardworking – but it’s still superbly written, with a lot of wit, a marvellous execution of the plotline and realistic-feeling characters with as strong a development as one could hope for. No: there’s no doubt about it that this play deserves the awards it won back in 1979-1981; it’s just great drama, great fun, and puts Mozart’s music into – albeit flawed – context.
Director Michael Longhurst’s production, meanwhile, lives up to the high standards. With the orchestra and six singers placed amidst the other actors on stage, they feel much more part of the play than in some earlier productions, which is perfectly fitting considering the play’s subject matter – at times Mozart mingles among or conducts them, at others Salieri is on stage with them. On top of that, the designs by Chloe Lamford and Jon Clark’s lighting are pristine and add to an overall presentation which is brilliantly executed, leading to a whole which just works.
Much of the play’s prowess comes from its lead actors, however – and here, again, Longhurst’s production does not falter. The central role of Salieri is executed by Lucian Msamati, who manages to interpret the character perfectly. Salieri is difficult to act, putting on a façade of confidence and upper-class mannerisms around others, but devolving into despair and hatred when he’s alone. Msamati’s performance delivers on all ends. Adam Gillen’s Mozart is similarly accomplished, displaying strong prowess when portraying the cracks in Mozart’s mask of childishness.
It’s no doubt that Longhurst’s vision of Amadeus is a great success and likely here to stay. It’s just a thrilling ride, and so entertaining throughout that one can hardly help but enjoy it – provided one can forgive Shaffer for his interpretation of historical events.
Photos: Marc Brenner