National Theatre Live’s (NT Live) screening of Peter Shaffer’s Tony Award-winning play Amadeus moulds perception like playdough. The production provides an enthralling insight into the eccentric life of famed composer Mozart (Adam Gillen) through the lens of his contemporary, Antonio Salieri, played by Lucian Msamati, perhaps best known for his roles in Luther and Game of Thrones.
An onstage orchestra melds flawlessly with immaculate performances from Gillen and Msamati. Manic, multi-hued melodies accentuate Gillen’s absurd rendition while ominous bass, hidden in dimly-lit shadows, emphasises Salieri’s grapples with virtue and jealousy. Salieri, faced with Mozart’s megalomaniac charisma and casual genius, is forced to confront the value of his own virtuosity, battling demons of jealousy as ominous melodies lend voice to the depths of his internal conflict.
The production is interspersed with thinly-veiled critiques of contemporary society. It explores the timeless themes of creative suffering and competition – struggles that every artist must endure in the realisation that, no matter the veracity of one’s passion, they may be forever eclipsed by a prodigious level of insight and genius reserved for the radical characters who splash strokes of colour across the grey scale annuls of history.
Amadeus is an incredibly immersive production fully worthy of the acclaim it has received since its initial run in 1979. The work of the NT Live in broadcasting iconic performances such as Amadeus can be seen as an important effort in broadening the scope and audience of performance theatre, screening interviews with cast members prior to the play and offering a wide variety of visceral camera angles. At the same time, however, viewing the screening of the production, in many ways, creates an intractable disconnect between the audience and its performance. This detracts from the efficacy of the play in eliciting emotion, delivering satire through conventional devices of satire, and, most importantly, the ability to break the fourth wall.
While Amadeus is unequivocally one of the most iconic theatrical performances in recent memory – and definitely a worthwhile watch – audiences may be left slightly underwhelmed and disappointed by the passivity of watching a “live” theatrical performance through the medium of film.
By Yasthiel Devraj