Peter Shaffer's 'Amadeus' has returned to its home at the National Theatre where it premiered in 1979 and is packing a theatrical punch with its audiences. In this portrayal, composers Antonio Salieri and W. A. Mozart are fictitiously warring - although the gritty depths of this warring are somewhat unbeknownst to Mozart. Throughout this dark, witty and poignant play, Salieri, self-titled as the Patron Saint of mediocrity, makes a pledge to God to orchestrate the rotting demise of the greatest composer of all time so that he might become God's own chosen conduit.
Any fan of the 1984 film adaption might be inclined to feel wary in the opening scene when the audience is initially led to believe the play has taken a sharp turn away from its origins, or might deliver a somewhat fanciful, avant-garde flavour. The use of Salieri's two plainly dressed "Venticelli" ('Little Winds' or 'ears to the ground' as we might refer to them) create the sense of an on-stage modern day journalistic shout off, as they exclaim in unison, the news that Salieri in his final hours is declaring an admission of guilt regarding the death of Mozart 32 years prior. The lighting changes and an almost dusky pink hue, illuminates the stage as we are swept back in time to the glory days of the classical period. Wariness averted.
Lucian Msamati as Salieri is spellbinding. He commands the stage as a brooding figure, wracked with despair at the realisation of his own mediocrity. Msamati draws the audience into the play in an almost, dare we say, pantomimic fashion as his marathon-long soliloquies fall directly upon our eyes and ears, sometimes prompting the shadow of an audible response. His presence is palpable throughout, and for the most part, he perfectly captures the role of ‘bad guy you secretly like’… just not at the end.
When Adam Gillen pounces onto the stage, complete with a shock of bleached blonde hair and recognisable awkward giggles and twisted gapes (a welcome homage to the film's stunning portrayal by Tom Hulce), we were initially unsure of his excessive movements and question the necessity for the often shocking vulgarities spat onto the stage in a kind of vocal frenzy. However, the uncertainty eases as the acts continue, and we are embraced warmly into the fold of Gillen whose homage to Hulce is a token gesture of familiarity that underpins his own genius take on the infantile yet adored – well – genius!
Those looking to indulge in an aural smorgasbord of Mozart's works will not be disappointed with excerpts of The Magic Flute, The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and the haunting Requiem. The striking use of the orchestra (provided by the Southbank Sinfonia) is highly notable. At times they provide a choreographed backdrop of human staging whereby their black figures move in the shadows. No longer the accompanying musicians, they metamorphose quickly into actors, smoothly moving like amorous cats, their bodies visually creating a pulsating rouse that beautifully summons perfect tension. The modernisation of some of the music in places provides a contemporary twist which is hugely successful, as the sounds soar and crescendo into an almighty climax with a spine tingling, throbbing bass line, one might be mistaken into believing that Mozart had dallied with premonitions of current dance music, centuries ahead of his time. This occasional flare of modernistic interruption in the original score is none other than sublime. Not to mention extremely clever.
The high notes were hit, the wit absorbed, and the poignancy soaked up like a thirsty trifle sponge swimming in orange liqueur. Amadeus is a masterpiece, a powerhouse of edgy delight and one definitely not to be missed.
The play is running until March 18 2017 at the National Theatre - don't miss your chance to go and see it!