Set in 18th century Vienna, the story concerns Antonio Salieri, who is the most famous composer in a city of musicians, or rather that is until a young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart arrives on the scene. Salieri becomes jealous of Mozart's gifted musical talent and plots to destroy him. Salieri befriends Mozart and pretends to help him, but all the time he is plotting to keep Mozart in poverty and in his shadow.
Salieri cannot believe that 'God' has given Mozart these skills, and not him, and thus plots against Mozart in order to reap his revenge upon 'God'. After all, he had made a 'contract' with God that he would live a virtuous life if in return God would give him the musical talents to be a great and famous musician. So, after his efforts at keeping his end of the bargain, how could God have given Mozart, this young upstart who has little respect for his elders or for the accepted moral conventions of his time, a talent that far outshone his own.
Since God had not kept his end of the bargain, Salieri decided that he would renounce virtue and use non-virtuous ways to make sure that Mozart would not be recognised as a great composer. What makes this task heart breaking for Salieri is his own love of music, and the fact that in destroying Mozart he realises he is destroying a great musical genius.
The play begins in 1823 with an old Salieri close to death and shouting that Mozart had died young because he had poisoned him. The story then goes back in time to when Salieri first met Mozart and his life was to change forever.
David Suchet's performance as 'Salieri' is probably the best of his career thus far. It was a brilliant and captivating accomplishment that was a joy to witness. His transformation from the old to the young Salieri is convincingly acted. His timing and pose was impressive, and most delightful. I do not think you will see a better performance of this role. David Suchet narrowly missed an Olivier award for his portrayal of 'George' in " Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" last year. This time, he just might land the award for his stunning performance in this play.
There is also a fine performance from Michael Sheen as ' Mozart'. He too puts in an energetic performance as the high-spirited and innocent child like Mozart who looks down upon Italian musicians. Sheen also manages to portray the dying Mozart in a way that will touch you as his body decays with illness.
A couple of reviews in so far from the popular press: NICHOLAS DE JONGH of THE EVENING STANDARD says "Hall's latest, sleekly old-fashioned production, suits a Nineties hankering for sumptuously antique worlds up to no good. " and BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE of THE TIMES says Suchet's performance was lacking the darkness that Paul Scofield brought to the original role, and goes on to say " Sheen gives the performance of a consistently well-played evening".
The play is a fascinating and intriguing story that is funny and at times thrilling. Though it is not a great production of "Amadeus', the acting of both Suchet and Sheen make this play of 2 hours and 45 minutes one worth seeing.
The Old Vic is home to Sir Peter Hall's production of Peter Shaffer's play Amadeus. And what a production it is! I won a pair of tickets to see it, but if I hadn't it would have been well worth paying for.
Recently a new cast has taken over; David Suchet has been replaced by Nicholas Le Prevost, Michael Sheen by Jake Broder, Lucy Whybrow by Chloe Angharad. I believe these two, and the whole supporting cast, are strong enough to be an opening cast.
Nicholas De Prevost has one of those faces that makes you think "I know him", but you can't think where from! His performance as Salieri was everything the script demanded - emotional, comic, dramatic, bitter, and thoroughly believable. His transformation from old man to young was brilliant. Every word was delivered with great passion and meaning; his role as narrator was crucial, and it needed an excellent actor to carry off the monologues. Nicholas did that with great style and talent.
Jake Broder as Mozart was also brilliant. He appeared to be enjoying himself, and his portrayal of the decay of Mozart was brilliant. Although best at the frivolous nature of the man, he gave some fantastic moments of drama, such as when his father died (more about that later) and indeed when he died. I felt he played the part a lot like Tom Hulce did in the film, yet in this completely different version that didn't matter - Jake has made the part his own.
Mozart's troubled wife Constanze was played by the gorgeous and brilliant (not necessarily in that order!) Chloe Angharad, almost a newcomer in the theatre. She appeared totally at home on the stage, and her interaction with other characters was great to watch. She played the young and innocent bride to perfection, and brought out Constanze's independence and dramatic side as well.
The supporting cast was strong, and although many had only walk-on roles they were essential to the ambience. That ambience was aided in creation by effective design and lighting, direction by one of the world's greatest directors, and of course, a fantastic script.
As soon as the play opens, the audience is thrown straight into the story, and there is no let-up until the end. Peter Shaffer's brilliant writing captures the feel of the day (but did they really use that language in 1781?!) and the monologues are perfectly written to move the story along and inform the audience.
I do have two moans, however. Firstly, in a play about the genius of one of the greatest composers ever, there was quite little to demonstrate Mozart's brilliance. Occasionally an aria or keyboard sonata would swell from the speakers, but perhaps a little more would have worked.
The second point is about the relationship between Mozart and his father. Mozzy had a great deal of respect for his father and often wrote to him for advice, not to mention money! I felt this relationship was somewhat brushed over in the play, and when Leopold Mozart's death was announced, the reaction was quite out of the blue. In defence, though, I must say that the staging for that moment will stay in my mind for a long time - absolutely brilliant.
The show is booking until 25th September 1999, but I fear it will close before then. When we arrived I thought the play had already started or been cancelled as there were so few people around the box office. Entering the beautiful auditorium, the stalls were half full. The lady next to us said that she'd booked for the circle but had been moved to the stalls due to "staff shortages". The upper two levels of the theatre were closed, and the stalls were maybe two thirds full. With an audience like that on a Monday night, it doesn't look good.
However, there is nothing wrong with this show. I can perfectly understand the strong reviews it received in the press, and I highly recommend seeing it before it disappears.