Amadeus at the National Theatre received a 4.3-star average from pro reviewers, with five awarding full marks. Libby Purves (TheatreCat) praised Peter Shaffer’s “extraordinary imagining” in which, Paul Taylor (Independent) explained, “dying Salieri, court composer to Joseph II of Austria, relives through extended flashbacks the story of his envy of Mozart”. Natasha Tripney (The Stage) hailed a “feast of a play”.
Taylor enjoyed Michael Longhurst’s “thrillingly fresh and imaginative revival” and Tripney felt he “captures the glory of Shaffer’s writing, its wit and agility, its intellectual richness, its impishness”. Dominic Cavendish (Telegraph) praised a “note-perfect” production “which fully confirms its classic status”. Tripney described costumes that “pop with colour” and “gleefully anachronistic” dance scenes, and Purves agreed “the play gets everything it needs for perfection and awe… stupendous”.
She thought Lucian Msamati’s Salieri “the performance of a lifetime (even for him)” as he “seethes, struts, writhes and falls like Satan himself, never loosening his grip on the pain. Or on us.” Cavendish enjoyed “dead-pan straightforwardness and sly bitter joviality”, Tripney found “his anguish… palpable” and Taylor thought him “superb”.
Tripney found a “suitably huge” performance from Adam Gillen, “grotesque yet compellingly so” and Purves reported “unsettling energy” in a “famously daunting part” before he “draws out the vulnerability… with particular finesse”. Cavendish felt “Less, actually, would be more” but admitted “he wrests sympathy for this gifted misfit” and Taylor found the “sudden glimpses of sensitivity… moving”.
Cavendish found “most striking” the use of live onstage musicians so that “we hear the excerpts of Mozart’s masterpieces in gorgeous splendor” along with “a flow of incidental (and often wryly pointed) accompaniment” to the action. Tripney saw them “brilliantly integrated into the world of the play” and Taylor found “the anti-hero’s conscious awareness of posterity” built on “in ways that brilliantly amplify our sense of what he went through” including musicians forming “a chorus that comments on the action in wheezing anachronistic discords or in clambering mime”. Purves described “one terrifying moment” where they “slide triumphantly downstage towards the sobbing, retching Salieri, their celestial harmonies and glowing brass and varnish nearly running him off the edge.” She though the soloists “marvels”, highlighting Fleur de Bray.
Tripney summed up a production “for all its playful, punkish energy… capable of tenderness and profundity” and hailed a “genuinely celebratory” revival, “both vulgar and divine”. Taylor felt Longhurst “has let the air of today into Amadeus in bravura fashion” declaring it “triumphant”. Cavendish, who found it “seems faintly to rush by” aired a popular sentiment, the “big sadness” that Shaffer, who died in June, had missed this production, adding, “I feel sure he’d have approved.” Purves described “one of those landmark, memorable five-star opening nights” concluding “It’s wonderful.”
Runs to 31 Dec 2016, but is now completely sold out, so check the National’s box office for returns or look out for the ‘NT Live’ version at a cinema near you. We do still have tickets for some other revivals of twentieth-century classics, including The Entertainer, The Libertine, The Dresser and Art.