Digital theatre review: Amadeus (NT Live)
Ivan Radford | On 23, Jul 2020
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Live theatre in a crowded auditorium is still not on the cards in the UK, which is leaving many theatres in great jeopardy – and some already facing closure. Live music, too, is not yet able to return. A production that combines the two, then, is a poignant thought in the current climate, but don’t let that stop you from streaming the National Theatre’s production of Amadeus, their final free offering in their weekly archive streams.
First performed in 2016 to huge acclaim and a sellout run, the show returned in 2018, when cameras were there to catch it on tape – and it’s amazing they managed to at all, because this production is blindingly good, like lightning in a bottle.
Peter Schaffer’s 1979 musical drama needs no introduction to many, thanks to Miloš Forman’s Oscar-winning film adaptation starring F Murray Abraham as Salieri, the bitter rival to Mozart in the Austrian court. Tormented by the ingenue’s rise to stardom – and evident musical superiority – it’s a glorious tale of ego, inspiration, envy and artistic genius.
Lucian Msamati, reprising his role from 2016, delivers a towering performance as the boringly mundane composer, who is all too aware that his gifts pale in comparison to the adored starlet. He’s at once enthralled and enraged, and his gnawing awareness of his own mediocrity is mesmerising to witness – he rants, raves, laughs and swoons through the epic production, with all the cunning malcontent of Iago and all the heart of a fellow creative.
Adam Gillen is the perfect counterpart, playing Mozart as an exciteable child and irritating prankster, rocketing about the stage with an uncontainable energy. That should be too much for the Olivier Theatre to hold, with Msamati’s already dominant presence, but both performances are held remarkably in balance by the presence of an even greater power: the music that ties them together and, ultimately, seals Mozart’s fate.
That takes the form of the Southbank Sinfonia orchestra, who are present on stage throughout the whole play. Dressed in black and swanning in and out of the foreground, they sashay, screech and stretch across props, people and plot twists, at once a literal force and a haunting spectre, capable of encouraging and torturing, often at the same time. Michael Longhurst seamlessly mixes them in with the rest of the ensemble – including a standout Adelle Leonce as Constanze, who is caught in the middle of this insidious two-hander – fine-tuning a stage show that is never less than thrilling. It’s a landmark incarnation of a legendary musician, and instantly iconic.