So, what is it? A revival of Peter Shaffer’s 1979 blockbuster. It's inspired by the unproven rumour that Antonio Salieri, court composer to the Austrian emperor, poisoned his more talented rival, Mozart. It’s a big play that filled the Olivier on its premiere when it was directed by Peter Hall who then took it to Broadway (where it won five Tonys). It still fills it now.
Is it a thriller? It is indeed, but one that aims, even if it doesn’t always succeed, in being metaphysical as it charts the relationship of man and God (both definitely male) and the torture of being a minor talent (Salieri) faced with major genius (Mozart).
Peter Hall, writing in his diaries, said: “Peter’s script is tougher, more precise, and more personal than anything he’s done before. In one way, he is writing about how he sees himself and his uncertainties compared to, say, Sam Beckett. The nature of talent, art, comes winging through. Peter’s usual obsession is there: to prove the existence of God, the nature of God.”
Lucian Msamati as Salieri. Photos by Marc Brenner.
Watch, and take your pick from two contrasting and equally persuasive views about the play. Hall called it “one of the most remarkable plays I have ever read”. The equally respected director Michael Blakemore described it as “the longest record sleeve” in history. I’m more inclined to the latter but that’s not to say that it isn’t a really enjoyable wallow. Lip-smackingly sumptuous.
It is the final offering in the National Theatre’s #NationalTheatreAtHome season of streamed broadcasts, which I guess could be described as the NT’s gift to the nation in lockdown. It is a mighty finale, an unashamedly theatrically flamboyant play given a very ingenious staging by Michael Longhurst with great design by Chloe Lamford.
Longhurst’s master stroke is to make music central so that Shaffer’s wordy play comes foregrounded with an emotional undertow. The Orchestra the South Bank Sinfonia is present on stage throughout, acting in some ways like `a Greek musical chorus but actually allowing us to hear the sublime. Shaffer’s play has long been described as operatic, not always in the most complimentary way, but this makes it feel more contemporary more like music-theatre.
The performances are terrific. Here’s Natasha Tripney in ]The Stage](https://www.thestage.co.uk/reviews/amadeus-review-at-national-theatre-london--vulgar-and-divine) on Adam Gillen as Mozart: “Adam Gillen’s performance as the former child prodigy with the extraordinary musical memory is grotesque yet compellingly so. He’s part Violet Elizabeth Bott, part Rik from The Young Ones as channelled by Gene Wilder at his most fevered and strange; a lisping, lurching, human punctuation mark, a man-brat in gold knickerbockers and sugar pink DMs with a laugh like a particularly tipsy hyena.” Lovely writing.
You can watch the live stream of Amadeus here this evening at 7pm. It will then be available on demand until Thursday 23 July.
*You can find more shows to watch online here in our Streamdoor guide.
Looking forward to getting back to live theatre? Here are some shows you can get excited about that are already booking for late this year and next year, including drive-ins and outdoor shows