Well, 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.