Adam Gillen, left, as Mozart and Lucian Msamati as Salieri in Amadeus at the Olivier. Photograph: Marc Brenner
London is a big place and I most definitely have not explored it all, but one of my absolute favourite areas in London is the Southbank. I love walking next to the water, the London Eye always looks beautiful, there are a million things going on including the book tables and random performers – even the Houses of Parliament looks beautiful from afar. And then there is the beautiful National Theatre that of late, I believe, has been pushing boundaries and allowing its stage to demonstrate the diversity of our nation.
The last play I saw at the National Theatre was Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom which Lucian Msamati also performed in. Last year I saw Msamati perform the role of Iago in the Iqbal Khan’s RSC Othello and he outdid himself, and with all due respect to Hugh Quarshie, who played Othello, he outdid him too.
The Synopsis: Amadeus
Amadeus tells the story of the supposed rivalry between classic musicians Antonio Salieri and child prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The narrative is dictated to us in retrospect as an elderly Sallieri sits on stage in a wheelchair, bundled up in a robe. Even in his final moments, Salieri is jealous of the memories that remind him of the young and buoyant Mozart and is terribly troubled by his actions in Mozart’s untimely death at 35. Their relationship was filled with envy and deception and most of this hostility was driven by Salieri’s burning rage because child prodigy Mozart was simply better than he. Having devoted his entire life to God, the talented Mozart threatens the position and name Salieri has created for himself, the story develops as Salieri feels wronged by God for allowing Mozart to be talented in this way.
I didn’t know much about the story when I walked into the theatre. Initially I was excited but the monologue by Msamati felt long and because I didn’t understand the story I wasn’t invested in his character until much later. The staging was beautiful, simple enough but effective. I loved the involvement of the onstage orchestra within the show, their movements reiterated the actors’ actions. In one scene where Salieri strikes a bargain with God to live virtuously, the onstage orchestra bow their heads in silent prayer. I loved that the audience felt invested in the show, collectively we all laughed and clapped and at points towards the end of the play there were moments where I genuinely felt torn and emotional.
Mozart and Amadeus
For me, the most exciting, exhausting, but thrilling part of the play was to watch Adam Gillen as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Gillen’s role within this play is so demanding, complex and in your face I wonder how he doesn’t feel like he has run a marathon at the end of the show and I wonder if he will modify the role as the season progresses. Gillen’s role as a childish Mozart was in your face, unapologetic, a role that pushes the audience to decide whether the bad that is happening to the character is deserved or not. But this changes drastically in Act 2: Gillen’s character is burdened and we watch as he slowly crumbles. It was painful to watch this passionate genius be shunned and denied again and again. I felt helpless and I knew I was watching a play.
Similarly Msamati’s role as Salieri reminded me of his role at the RSC as Iago, both characters obsessed and emotionally complex. Maybe Salieri had a little more humanity in him than Iago. Msamati’s role starts off light-heartedly, but we see him develop and embrace a darkness from within, a rage and jealousy that consumes him and Msamati played this role unashamedly, allowing the audience space to empathise with his battle of feeling mediocre but also to spite him for his actions.
I loved it all, but for me the two main characters made the show a phenomenon, this show is a must see. Mozart’s madness is mesmerising, forceful and sad. The 20-piece Southbank Sinfonia on stage as part was exciting, an experience you can’t get from being at the cinema or watching Netflix.
There is no need to miss out because Amadeus is being broadcast live to cinemas on 2 February 2017 (my birthday!) to over 680 screens in the UK as part of the excellent NT Live, so check your local listings on www.ntlive.com. You can also book your tickets here.
Thank you to Theatre Bloggers and the National Theatre for the invite to review this play.