It wouldn’t feel right to begin this review without first mentioning the unorthodox manner in which the press night began. Wednesday night’s performance of Amadeus was prefaced with a few words from the current and previous artistic directors of the National Theatre, Rufus Norris and Nicholas Hytner, paying tribute to one of the greatest theatre directors of the last century, Howard Davies, who passed away unexpectedly the previous morning. During his career, Davies directed 36 productions for the National Theatre, all of which were among Nicholas Hytner’s all-time favourites at the National. Although Rufus Norris claimed that this introduction was ‘unorthodox’, I thought it both touching and an incredibly appropriate way to begin a production that pays tribute to another artistic legend, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Thirty-seven years after its celebrated premiere, Peter Shaffer’s hit play returns to the Olivier stage in style. This bold revival, masterfully directed by Michael Longhurst, transports its audience to 18th Century Vienna… with just enough anachronisms to remind us of its continuing relevance. Antonio Salieri snacking on Kirspie Kreme donuts, Constanze Weber sporting a Minnie Mouse bow, and Mozart himself in gold trousers and pink Doc Martens for the entirety of the first act – these subtle hints of modern society within a period play truly struck home the important role of classical music in the artistic landscape of today. In his flawless portrayal of Mozart, Adam Gillen brought to life the boisterous and playful nature of this genius musician with all the flair and joy of a hyperactive child on Christmas morning. To say that his performance was energetic would be the understatement of the century – I couldn’t take my eyes off him. Mozart’s struggle as a young musician throwing a spanner into tradition and fighting tooth and nail against a society bitterly resistant to change is as relevant now as it ever was. It is exceptionally painful to watch Amadeus knowing full well the ridiculous struggle of taking artistic risks and remaining true to your own voice as an artist, whilst every step off the way trying to defend and justify your work to those in power simply to make ends meet. The sheer power with which Gillen threw himself into this role made Mozart’s breakdown so much more tragic. Condensed into a single line, spoken by Salieri, which drove me to tears: “The profoundest voice in the world, reduced to a nursery tune.”
Antonio Salieri (played by Lucian Msamati), court composer and rival to Mozart, seems to act as a reluctant spokesperson for the mediocre. Once great, soon to be overtaken by a newcomer who was given at birth something that the rest of us work our whole lives towards. Despite an instant dislike of the character, I can’t help but empathise. It is said that it takes ten thousand hours of practice to become an expert at something, and Salieri has paid his dues. His jealousy of Mozart who was already a renowned prodigy at the age of eight, is quite natural. However, in Amadeus this jealousy seems to be rooted in the much darker corners of sexual jealousy and power. A particularly powerful scene showed Mozart’s wife Constanze, stunningly played by the strong and forceful Karla Crome, agreeing to trade sex with Salieri for a job recommendation for Mozart, but only on her terms. Crome was a powerful presence on stage, and watching her and Mozart demonstrate their love through humour and play was an absolute joy to watch.
Amadeus is ‘colourful’ in every sense of the word. A constantly-adapting set (I will never cease to be amazed at what the Olivier stage can do), some truly wonderful remixing of Mozart’s best-known pieces, and above all, the costumes. Oh, the costumes. Gold suits, loud and ridiculous reversible suit jackets, a Macklemore-esque fur coat, Constanze’s many wonderful gowns… Every costume change was more wacky and wonderful than the last. Longhurst’s collaboration with designer Chloe Lamford, musical director Simon Slater and choreographer Imogen Knight was utterly magical. What truly brought their production to life was the central role of the orchestra. The Southbank Sinfonia, fully integrated into the dramatic action, are instrumental (pardon the pun) in the way the story is told. During Salieri’s soliloquised experiences of Mozart’s music, the full immersion of the orchestra in the ensemble’s physical exploration of Salieri’s mind captures in a very visceral way the way that music makes us feel. The connections he makes between music and God are fully realised in every aspect of this production, and no matter how you may feel about religion, it is impossible to ignore the spiritual nature of music both then and now. It is a great shame that Sir Peter Shaffer, who sadly passed away in June at the age of 90, did not have the chance to see this stunning revival of his iconic play.
Amadeus by Peter Shaffer
Directed by Michael Longhurst
Musical Direction by Simon Slater
National Theatre (Olivier) until 26 January 2017
Tickets Available: www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/amadeus
On 2 February 2017 Amadeus will be broadcast live to over 680 screens around the UK.
[Thank you to http://www.TheatreBloggers.co.uk for this opportunity!]
[All photos by Marc Brenner]