Mediocrities Everywhere: Amadeus from NT Live (for Parterre Box)


Adam Gillen and the Company of Amadeus at the National Theatre.

Cameron Kelsall: The National Theatre fittingly concludes its NT Live at Homestreaming series with one of its biggest successes. The company premiered Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus at the Olivier in 1979, launching a theatrical phenomenon that would culminate in a Best Picture-winning film adaptation, to say nothing of countless revivals. The production under consideration here, directed by Michael Longhurst and dating from 2016, takes as many liberties with the material as Shaffer did with his exploration of Mozart’s genius and Salieri’s jealousy. The settings, costumes and performance styles revel in anachronism, and the chamber orchestra Southbank Sinfonia provides onstage musical accompaniment. Although I found the entire endeavor largely unsatisfying—and frequently boring—the production style did expose Shaffer’s play for what it’s always been: a piece of lowbrow camp masquerading as highbrow art.

David Fox: Cameron, I find it so interesting that you focus on this highbrow/lowbrow distinction about Amadeus. I’ve seen only one other stage version (and, of course, the movie), and when I reviewed it, this was my opening: “I love highbrow theatre. Also, lowbrow theatre.  What I despise is middlebrow theatre with pretensions, which brings us to Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, a bloated trifle of a play.” Watching this NT production, I was, of course, very aware of all the ways in which Longhurst and his cast and creative team strove to rethink the piece, but in the end, I arrived at exactly the same place. It’s an occasionally entertaining and cleverly constructed piece of writing—but to me, deeply offensive in its vulgarity, oversimplification, and downright dishonesty. And frankly, if there’s anything that Amadeus does not benefit from, it’s the kind of frenetic excess that anchors every element here…

Click here to read the complete review at Parterre Box.

Categories: Music, PARTERRE BOX, Theater

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1 reply »

  1. I’ve only found glowing reviews for this play so far and I am so relieved to find someone who thought it was dire! I completely agree with your comments on Gillen and Msamati’s performances; I just reviewed this for my own blog and I think ‘frenetic excess’ perfectly sums up everything wrong with this play.

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