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REVIEW How Amadeus at the National Theatre floored me.

Adam-Gillen-Wolfgang-Amadeus-Mozart-Lucian-Msamati-Antonio-Salieri-photograph-by-Marc-Brenner1
Adam Gillen and Lucian Msamati in Amadeus, National Theatre. Photo Marc Brenner

When I sat down to watch Amadeus at the National Theatre I was expecting to laugh, to be entertained, to be dazzled by the 18th century opulence, live music and operatic singing but I wasn't expecting to cry.

Peter Shaffer's play - which the National has just announced will return next year - is the story of successful and renowned court composer Salieri (Lucian Msamati) whose position, love of music and faith is challenged when the prodigiously talented, extremely precocious and obstreperous young Mozart (Adam Gillen) arrives in Vienna.

Mozart's skill at musical composition is so exceptional it makes everyone else, including Salieri, look mediocre and he isn't happy with that. But neither is he happy with the fact that God seems to have bestowed such an amazing talent on such an uncouth and uncivilised youth when he himself is a devout Catholic. The mixture of jealousy and contempt starts to eat him up and he plots to halt the march of Mozart's growing success.

This production is a spectacle with the Southbank Sinfonia performing live on stage and professional singers taking the parts of Salieri's pupil and Mozart's performers. The costumes are lavish as befits the 18th century court in Vienna - with the odd modern touch such as Mozart's Dr Marten boots and bleached blond white hair.

Lucian Msamati's Salieri remains collected and calm, for the most part, amid a collection of larger than life characters. There is the fickle, dim Emporer Joseph II (Tom Edden whose depiction of the seven deadly sins in Dr Faustus was legendary) and the giggly Constanze (Karla Crome) who is smitten with Mozart although not quite silly as she appears and of course the largest of them all: Mozart. He is a character of big movements, unbridled honesty and opinions and tantrums*. He blows raspberries and makes rude hand gestures, has the attention span of a toddler and the attitude of a teenager. He is an annoying delight and delightfully annoying.

However the genius of the production and of Adam Gillen's performance is to turn Mozart from a character you want to both laugh at and slap to one you are rooting for so badly that Salieri's campaign against him feels so utterly cruel and wicked. I found myself weeping for the pain inflicted and the talent wasted. And I really wasn't expecting to be moved in that way by this play. Salieri is an Iago in gold brocade spurred on by Mozart's purely beautiful music.

Amadeus is a spectacular and moving piece of theatre and it inspired me to go out and buy some Mozart. I'm glad it's coming back for a second run. It's three hours including an interval and I'm giving it five stars. If finishes this extended run at the National Theatre on Mar 18 and returns in January 2018.

*Adam Gillen's performance and energy reminded me a great deal of Harry Melling. I loved Adam Gillen playing this role but if he can't make the run next year, I'll be campaigning for Harry to step in.

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