Laurence Green reviews Michael Longhurst’s powerful revival of Peter Shaffer’s iconic 1979 play, Amadeus.

Lucian Msamati and Adam Gillen, Amadeus

It is not often you find an actor giving a performance that is a real tour de force but this is indeed the case with Lucian Msamati who brings a compelling mixture of anger, pain and envy to the role of a man forced to confront his own mediocrity in the face of a musical genius in Michael Longhurst’s powerful revival of Peter Shaffer’s iconic 1979 play, Amadeus (Oliver auditorium at National Theatre).

The place is Vienna, the musical capital of the world, the time the 18th century, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a rowdy young prodigy arrives determined to make a splash. Awestruck by his genius, court composer Antonio Salieri has the power to promote his talent or destroy his name. Seized by obsessive jealousy, he begins a war with his rival, Mozart, with music and ultimately, with god.

Director Michael Longhurst’s interpretation of this multiple Oliver and Tony award-winning play (and Academy Award-winning film) is ambitious and musically inventive. Yet it takes a while to exert its grip and has some unnecessary modern touches such as a tray of American doughnuts, mobile phones, Mozart wearing Doc Martens, not to mention some jarring modern idioms.

But when it sings, its voice soars. Longhurst makes a point of integrating music into action onstage. There are 20 musician members of the Southbank Sinfonia and their presence, together with some excellent singing means that we get a keen sense of Mozart in the very midst of creating a masterpiece-not only do we get to hear splendid snippets of The Magic Flute, The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni, but musical director Simon Slater has provided additional music to create a flow of incidental accompaniment.

One of the best moments in the show is the party scene when musicians and actors revel on stage together, reflecting the world of the characters, where music and life are synonymous, and highlights the skill of the Sinfonia musicians who perfectly perform pieces from memory , while moving around the stage.

Adam Gillen, with a shock of bright blonde hair, makes a precocious vulnerable Mozart, with a talent for behaving disgracefully, even when he is trying to impress his patron Emperor Joseph II, but manages to wrest sympathy for this gifted misfit in the closing stages. Karla Crome brings a mix of flippancy and fortitude to the role of his wife, while Fleur de Bray is particularly impressive as Salieri’s favourite soprano and delivers several of Mozart’s best known and most difficult pieces with great aplomb.

But the evening belongs to Lucian Msamati who gives a tremendous performance as Salieri… The British-Tanzanian actor strongly conveys the stealthy duplicity and false bonhomie of Salieri, initially pictured in his last wheelchair-ridden days, who provides a running commentary on the tightly plotted action of growing vengeance against the impudent, irritating and frustratingly brilliant boy-wonder named Mozart.

In short the, this is an accomplished production that resonates in the mind long after the final curtain.


Playing at the Oliver Auditorium, National Theatre until 2 February 2017.

Amadeus will also be broadcast live to cinemas on Thursday 2 February2017.

Last modified: November 1, 2016

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