Friday, 18 November 2016

'Amadeus' at the National Theatre

Last week we went to see the new production of 'Amadeus' on the big Olivier stage at the National Theatre. I saw an exciting production of 'Amadeus' at Chichester two year ago with Rupert Everett in the main role as Salieri so I'm familiar with the story of the play, but what would the National do with it? The play is actually sold out until February next year so, it appears, I'm not the only one that's interested to see what it would do with the play it first staged - after all, that's where it was first performed all those years ago.

Although named for Amadeus Mozart, the tale is actually about Antonio Salieri, an Italian composer at the court of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor at Vienna. Salieri is the court composer at the time that Mozart settles in Vienna hoping to make his name and fortune and the play starts with Salieri as an old man looking back to when he knew Mozart. The glory of Mozart's works is spoiled for Salieri by his crass behaviour and that is the start of the spiralling downfall of Mozart at Salieri's hands. Feigning to be a friend and supporter, he plots the downfall of his rival and sees him reduced to penury and illness, finally dying. All as part of Salieri's war with God for granting Mozart the gift of great music rather than himself.

The empty Olivier stage is soon full of chairs for the Southbank Sinfonia that provides the music for the production and is on stage rather than in a pit, adding to the busy-ness of the play. They don't stay on stage for long, though, and start playing here, there and everywhere as needed but are ever-present since music fills the play, sometimes in period costume and sometimes not. More often than not I'd say that this would be a distraction from the 'real' play but I actually quite enjoyed it, with the musicians and actors playing off each other.

I really liked the staging, a relatively bare stage transformed every so often into a crowded salon or concert venue allowing the mind to wonder and wander into different scenarios. One minute the royal palace and the next a bawdy house show that becomes 'The Marriage of Figaro' or some other grand opera. It's all very imaginative and very well done. Well done to Michael Longhurst and Chloe Lamford for having the vision to make it all work.

Of course, the play is really about the relationship between Salieri and Mozart, in this case Lucian Msamati and Adam Gillen. I've seen Lucian a few times in previous National Theatre productions but Adam is a new name to me. They worked well together, the serious older musician and the younger want to have fun while producing great music without thinking about it. Lucian feigns an Italian accent (presumably to distinguish himself from the German-speaking court) and that sometimes got a bit too thick to easily follow but he ably leads the play. The other main character is Constanze, Mozart's wife, played by Karla Crome as a great East End fishwife.

I really liked this production and Lucian as the jealous. scheming Salieri holding it all together. The staging and lighting were imaginative and I loved having the orchestra on the stage as participants in the play rather than accompanists. I think I'd like to see it again!

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