My Stage is the World

Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive

Who was Antonio Salieri?

on October 27, 2016

Review of Amadeus at The National Theatre

When one thinks of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, it is perhaps as a child genius, or even as one of the greatest composers ever. What we may consider less is who he really was, how he acted and how his contemporaries perceived him.

In writing Amadeus, Peter Shaffer looks beyond the music at the man himself and those who knew him. Despite its title, the play’s protagonist is Antonio Salieri – fellow musician and just a few years Mozart’s senior. Unlike Mozart however, Salieri has never received such lasting acclaim; in fact he is unknown to many. Yet, in Amadeus we learn more about him and how his career was overshadowed by a precocious boy and how Salieri’s jealousy may have affected his life.

The story of Amadeus is fascinating, combining historical fact with hearsay, rumour and imagination. The cause of Mozart’s death was never confirmed and Shaffer invites the audience to speculate on the role Salieri may have played. Staging is simple yet spectacular in others, with minimal furniture and props, but with backdrops and flourishes that are aesthetically pleasing. Costumes are mainly of the period, with a few quirks – such as Mozart’s pink Doc Marten’s.

Acting is strong, with an absolutely brilliant performance from Lucian Msamatu as Antonio Salieri. His character is well-developed and even at times mesmerising. Although not a likeable character, there is a desire to empathise with him, especially as the character Mozart (Adam Gillen), is so appalling. 

In this role, Gillen is reminisce of Pitt the Younger from Blackadder. He is excruciating, bringing an almost pantomime effect to the whole production. Understandably the piece is not an ode to Mozart, a petulant child who was paraded around Europe and whose childhood and adulthood were never define, but this is a step too far.

For what is ultimately an historical, musical play, this portrayal takes an exquisite piece and aims it at the lower echelons of society. Several of the jokes are forced and a farcical, creating an odd theatrical result. Mozart’s beautiful music is played during the play by the Southbank Sinfonia, cleverly interwoven into the play and staging for an effect that is both powerful and dramatic.
Unfortunately, the over the top characterisation of Mozart ruins the overall result. It is an excellent play, yet it is also an awful one. If his character were slightly less petulant and the script did not feel as though it had been ‘dumbed down’, Amadeus would be a masterpiece.

Amadeus will be broadcast live to over 680 screens around the UK on 2 February 2017.

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