by Peter Shaffer.
The Olivier, the National Theatre, Upper Ground, London SE1 9PX to 2 February 2017. Check dates with theatre.
Runs 3 hrs One interval.
TICKETS: 020 8033 7360.
Review: William Russell 27 October
A fine revival of a great play
This splendid production of Peter Shaffer’s 1979 play about the jealous Viennese court composer Antonio Salieri and his rival Mozart is marred by the failure of director Michael Longhurst to keep control of Adam Gillen.
Shaffer’s fictionalised account of the battle between the young composer and Salieri portrays Mozart as a pop idol of the time, a kind of Justin Bieber, or whoever it was he had in mind when he wrote it. For all the beauty of his music in reality Mozart was foul mouthed, promiscuous and no respecter of persons and the conceit works splendidly, except Gillen takes it all too far. His Mozart is demented, looks like Harpo Marx on speed in a blonde mullet, and generally behaves so badly that not even his genius could excuse him. This Mozart simply would not have been tolerated at court, genius or not genius. It is a classic case of more being less.
In the second half of this very long evening as Mozart’s fortunes and health decline Gillen calms down, the performance becomes what it could have been, and the tragedy at the heart of this very fine play hits home.
Longhurst’s production uses a real orchestra, the Southbank Sinfonia, not recorded music, to great effect and is played out on a vast simple set. He manages to fill the vast Olivier stage splendidly which not all directors achieve.
As Salieri the Tanzanian actor Lucian Msamati takes time to get the measure of the Olivier space, but once he does the result is a hugely impressive study of a man wracked with jealousy all too aware that for all his competence and worldly success his music is commonplace beside that of the younger man. Part of Msamati’s problem oddly is that he is a relatively unfamiliar face and the Olivier demands star presence, an actor the audience can empathise with almost without thinking. He does, however, succeed quite swiftly in imposing himself on both role the theatre and the result is very powerful as he looks back on his long battle to destroy the younger man and his dispute with God for so unfairly distributing talent.
There are some fashionable modern touches which really add nothing – a woman plays a male role, Mozart wears trainers, that dyed blond mullet, and somebody takes pictures with their smart phone – but equally there are some stunning moments notably Mozart’a death sprawled on his piano as the music of his Requiem thunders out. There is also a lovely performance from Tom Edden as the Emperor who somehow or other never manages to find the money to pay Mozart, a depiction of the cruelty of majesty to relish. With this the National is on top form and would have been on memorable form with a little more restraint from Mr Gillen.
Antonio Salieri: Lucian Msamati.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Adam Gillen.
Constanze Weber: Karla Crome.
Venticelli: Sarah Amankwah, Hammed Animashaun.
Joseph 11: Tom Edden.
Count Johann Kilian Von Strack: Alexandra Mathie.
Count Fraz Orsini-Rosenberg: Hugh Sachs.
Baroin Gottfried Van Swieten: Geoffrey Beevers.
Katherina Cavalieri: Fleu e Bray.
Teresa Salieri: Wendy Dawn Thompson.
Salieri’s cook: Peter Willcock.
Salieri’s valet: Eamonn Mulhall.
Kappelmeister Bonno: Andrew Macbean.
Major Domo: Everal Walsh.
Citizens of Vienna: Nicholas Gerard-Martin, Matthew Hargreaves, Michael Lyle, Andrew Macbean, Robyn Allegra Parton, Eleanor Sutton, Everal AWalsh.
The Southbank Sinfonia.
Fortepiano played by Matthew Scott.
Director: Michael Longhurst.
Designer: Chloe Lamford.
Music Director & Additional Music: Simon Slater.
Choreographer: Imogen Knight.
Lighting Designer: Jon Clark.
Sound Designer: Paul Arditti.
Company Voice Work: Jeannette Nelson.
Foreign Language Coach: Sonia Nerdrum.
Staff Director: Finn den Hertog.