Review – Amadeus, National Theatre

Wednesday 9 November 2016

798954Well, we went in humming Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus” and we were still humming it on the way out.

This despite the 20 pieces of the Southbank Sinfonia who bang out Mozart’s music throughout the three long hours of Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, interact with the actors, occasionally having a stab at acting themselves, ripple like waves on the stairs of what constitutes a set and donning party hats to become part of the action.

If you don’t have a ticket you’re unlikely to get one for its current booking period now. It was practically sold out before the fairly spectacular reviews were delivered. But don’t despair, you need some good news this morning, it didn’t quite work its magic on us.

Phil of course is so old he saw the original production on the very same stage 37 years ago. Eek. He was pretty bowled over with it then, but that may have been down to his lack of other theatrical experiences or just a rose-tinted and/or rather bad memory. That production featured Paul Scofield, Simon Callow, Felicity Kendal and Andrew Cruickshank (for those of us old enough to remember Doctor Finlay’s Casebook).

Now we have colour-blind, gender-blind and TV’s Benidorm-friendly casting. Lucian Msamati (brilliant in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) is saddled with wiping out Phil’s memory of Scofield’s Salieri, the Viennese imperial court’s favourite composer obsessed with envy and contempt at playing second fiddle to the prodigiously talented wunderkind Mozart (Adam Gillen of Benidorm, Hugh Sachs also from that show, gives his Count Franz Orsini-Rosenberg here).

And despite getting through the first fairly sluggish 15 minutes or so of Salieri’s opening monologue the problems hadn’t really begun. Phil’s problems really started when the scatalogical, raspberry-blowing, skirt-lifting Mozart appeared. He’s meant to be annoying. Gillen’s impressively energetic and manic performance certainly succeeds there. Dressed from a mood board that presumably included pink Dr. Martens, the Sanderson wallpaper range and Maggi Hamblin’s hair he bravely goes way off the scale of irritating. Let’s not even start on that whinnying laugh.

Michael Longhurst‘s busy production certainly puts the money up on the stage, big period costumes (the orchestra are in contemporary black), big wigs, big orchestra, big cast, plus 6 opera singers. Presumably not much left for the messy unfinished-looking slightly deconstructed set (Chloe Lamford) with the overdone “let’s show all the props and scenery in the wings” school of thought: you might wonder if you’ve wandered into an ambitious concert version. There’s some occasional bad sight lines if you sit near the front. It was a relief when the Olivier’s drum dropped the orchestra a few feet below the stage and the obstructing piano disappeared from view.

And if Phil wasn’t irritated enough by Mozart, the orchestra wandering about carrying mobiles, taking selfies and feeding Salieri Krispy Kreme doughnuts pushed him over the edge.

Thank heavens for the appearance of a cake-laden hostess trolley (another!) at one point and decent performances in the supporting cast; Geoffrey Beevers as Baron Gottfried Van Swieten and the reliably funny Tom Edden (One Man, Two Guvnors, The Peter Pan That Goes Wrong) who survived Doctor Faustus to deliver his Joseph ll. And the music often soars: even Phil nodded in approval at a Mozart mash-up.

Msamati gives a nicely understated and controlled performance, but then everything is relative against the Keith-Lemon-on-acid Mozart. Phil was completely onside with Salieri’s claim that he poisoned Mozart. Phil would have topped him from the get-go.




6 Responses to “Review – Amadeus, National Theatre”

  1. Chris Voisey Says:

    So… what’s the thing now with the cast wandering about on the stage before the play starts? KING LEAR at the Old Vic is the same – understudies walking about talking into headmikes, one hoovering, another does similar service with a carpet cleaner, taking photos with their mobiles… do directors really think the audience are saying “Ooo look, this is what it’s like before a production starts.. aren’t we lucky this theatre has no tabs”.

    Ten years elapse during the play – you would never know it from the performances of Adam Gillen and Karla Crome as they were the same at the end as they were at the beginning. Msamati was ok but was dull compared to Rupert Everett at Chichester in 2014

  2. Sandown Says:

    “Now we have colour-blind, gender-blind casting…” In other words, it makes nonsense of the text.

    The recent production of “Henry V” at Regent’s Park also had actors wandering about before the start, until the Chorus eventually selected an actress to play England’s warrior king.

    It’s things like this that drive people to vote for Trump.

  3. graham Says:

    You are too kind. This production is a complete mess.

  4. Udard Says:

    …and so undercast!

  5. Robin & Terri Horn Says:

    We’ve just come from the simulcast of this play, for which we had high expectations given the exceptional reviews and the sold-out performances at the National. But as soon as we walked out of the Regent Street Cinema, we looked at each other and simultaneously acknowledged, “What a disappointment!” First, both leads left us totally unmoved; we attributed this to the feeling that each in his own way overplayed his part. Salieri came across as unidimensional – – an angry old man. Amadeus lacked depth as well – he was simply absurd and insufferable. Weekly London theatergoers, we love theatre and appreciate traditional West End theater, quality productions at the National or the Globe, and innovative fringe theatre. But this production left us cold – we felt no connection with the characters, and neither, it appeared, did the audiences at the Simulcast nor the National Theater audience as shown on the big screen. Once we arrived home, we sifted through multiple reviews scattered across all of the major newspapers and review sites. This one was the only one that provided a critique consistent with ours.
    Can we be the only ones who share this critique??

  6. Phil (a west end whinger) Says:

    So glad it’s not just us them…

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