“We were both ordinary men, he and I. Yet from the ordinary he created legends – and I from legends created only the ordinary” declares Salieri of his nemesis Amadeus in Peter Shaffer’s revived play of the same name, now showing at the National Theatre.
When it premiered in 1979, the play was showered with awards and subsequently turned into an Academy award-winning motion picture.
Its return to the National is triumphant, allowing a fresh audience to experience this epic Machiavellian saga, which explores the relationship between court composer Salieri and the young and supremely talented upstart Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
It is in Amadeus’s gifts that Salieri is faced with his own failings.
The narrative is dark, Shaffer’s words poetic and the themes remain relevant. It poses the question of how far a man will go to destroy another and how can one retain a sense of self amid this destruction.
Shaffer’s play hinges on the rumour that Salieri murdered Amadeus.
Salieri’s jealousy knows no bounds, he places obstacles in every direction for Amadeus until he is left penniless and sick, before eventually dying. Salieri spends the rest of his life living in the shadow of Amadeus, whose music, which revolutionised the way opera was written, lives on, haunting Salieri and eventually sending him mad.
Michael Longhurt’s direction is magnificent; the inclusion of the Southbank Sinfonia orchestra on stage among the action is a masterful stroke, bringing the music to life and accentuating the pain that Salieri feels while Amadeus’s music punctuates the air like a knife through Salieri’s heart.We feel it and we see it.
The extraordinary company are the pulse that breathes life into the play with large group scenes both intoxicating and mesmerising. A back lit Don Giovanni is terrifying. Lucian Msamati is a superb Salieri, equally menacing and tortured and Adam Gillian’s performance as the crazed Amadeus is well-drawn from his physical ticks right down to his Doc Martin boots, providing the perfect counterbalance to Salieri’s solemnity.
The National’s production of Amadeus is a fitting tribute to the eminent Jewish playwright Sir Peter Shaffer, who died in June but leaves behind, like Mozart, a great body of work to savour.
Amadeus is a play about jealousy and envy, control and power, it’s morally rich and hugely entertaining and expertly captures the essence of darkness that can consume men.
Amadeus continues at Olivier Theatre at the National Theatre. Currently booking until 26 January with additional performances to be announced. There will also be a National Theatre Live broadcast on February 2, 2017. Details: www.nationaltheatre.org.uk