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Amadeus, National Theatre, review: ‘Mozart is a puerile man-child in Doc Martens’

PUBLISHED: 12:06 25 January 2018 | UPDATED: 12:06 25 January 2018

Amadeus at National Theatre starring Lucian Msamati as Antonio Salierie and Adam Gillen as Mozart. Picture: Marc Brenner

Amadeus at National Theatre starring Lucian Msamati as Antonio Salierie and Adam Gillen as Mozart. Picture: Marc Brenner

Archant

What if you are Vienna’s official court composer and a disrespectful upstart arrives, seduces your star pupil, blows raspberries at authority and makes your best work sound mediocre?

Amadeus at National Theatre starring Lucian Msamati as Antonio Salierie and Adam Gillen as Mozart. Picture: Marc BrennerAmadeus at National Theatre starring Lucian Msamati as Antonio Salierie and Adam Gillen as Mozart. Picture: Marc Brenner

Peter Schaffer may have played fast and loose with the facts, but his best-known play weaves a gripping tale of jealousy and revenge from the loose threads of history.

What if, he supposes, you are Vienna’s official court composer, the most renowned opera writer of your day, and a disrespectful upstart arrives, seduces your star pupil, blows raspberries at authority and makes your best work sound mediocre?

Michael Longhurst’s stirring revival back for another run at The National, channels opera’s overblown melodrama as Lucian Msamati’s tortured Salieri encounters the arrogant brilliance of Adam Gillen’s prodigy.

Clad in Doc Martens and a florid frock coat, Mozart here is a puerile man-child spewing scatological humour and pinging around like a hyperactive kid on Tartrazine.

But he also embodies the spirit of punk, jumping on the piano to conduct, shaking up Vienna’s stuffy music scene, yet forced to beg for scraps of patronage from dim aristocrats whom he continually offends.

Although overwritten, Schaffer’s success came from layering Mozart’s sublime works into the narrative, and Longhust brilliantly integrates the 20-strong Southbank Sinfonia and professional singers to powerful effect. Doubling as citizens of Vienna. They haunt the piece, blasting fragments of transcendental music, summoning the bustling rumour-filled 18th Century Vienna, or the backstage ambience of a contemporary opera company warming up.

Pitched as Salieri’s deathbed confession to a future audience of how he engineered Mozart’s plunge into madness, poverty and early death, it is Msamati’s show. Eaten with jealousy, his Salieri writhes in agony at every beautiful note, and shakes his fist at an uncaring God who has blessed him with fame but limited talent – with the ears to hear his rival’s brilliance, and his own mediocrity.

Adelle Leonce is heartrending as Mozart’s lively but long-suffering wife Constanza, and Gillen’s over-the-top performance nevertheless conveys Mozart’s frustrations and ultimately the isolation of the truly gifted.

As it emerges that Salieri himself spread rumours he had poisoned Mozart to forever yoke his name to his posterity, it’s an instructive tale for our own times about the hollow pursuit of fame or infamy.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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