Sixteen weeks ago the National Theatre At Home season was launched and this week the final show began its one week run. In Amadeus they may just have saved the best until last.
Dance Nation at the Almeida Theatre is a pretty damn fine piece of writing by US playwright Clare Barron, and a damn fine piece of theatre directed by Bijan Sheibani.
Clare Barron’s play Dance Nation at the Almeida not only sees life through the female lens, it touches on subjects that are generally treated as taboo.
It’s the banter that makes it in Clare Barron’s spirited play about a children’s dance troupe in a fierce American competition, directed by Bijan Sheibani.
With plenty of influences from across film, there’s still a lot to take from Clare Barron’s play, and as annual dance fever arrives in the UK once again and mingles with a year of female-led stories, Dance Nation is timely if not quite a ten from Len.
The Almeida Theatre has announced the full cast for the UK premiere of Clare Barron’s new play Dance Nation, directed by Bijan Sheibani (running from 27 August to 6 October, with a press night on 4 September).
There was a special currency for Sarah Daniels’ Neaptide being the opening play in the #ntQueer season as this 1986 drama was actually the first by a living female playwright at the National Theatre – an astonishing fact all told.
Revival of Peter Shaffer’s most famous play is more a musical triumph than a textual one.
“It would make angels mourn”
Perhaps fittingly, on an evening when beautiful tribute was paid to the late Howard Davies, whose invaluable contribution to the National Theatre (36 productions over 28 years) will sorely be missed, there’s a sense of the passing of the guard with director Michael Longhurst making his main stage debut in the South Bank venue. Longhurst has been establishing himself quite the reputation (Constellations and Linda at the Royal Court, Carmen Disruption at the Almeida, A Number at the Nuffield, an extraordinary Winter’s Tale earlier this year, and the brilliant The Blackest Black at the Hampstead, to name just a few) and his graduation here feels entirely earned.
He makes his bow with Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, a play that premiered at this very theatre in 1979 (another sad loss, as Shaffer passed away this summer) and with the enviable resources to hand here, mounts an excellent production. The play depicts a largely fictionalised version of the intertwined lives of composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri and their rival careers, and the Southbank Sinfonia are on hand to provide live orchestral accompaniment. So that when The Marriage of Figaro is premiered, we get an excerpt; when people read the sheet music, we don’t have to imagine the notes of the page, we hear them out loud.
And though the play takes place in the late eighteenth century Viennese court, the Sinfonia remain in modern dress, a constant reminder of the timelessness of Mozart’s music, how it has endured, thrived even. This is best displayed in a breathtaking sequence that closes the first half, Longhurst at his bravura best. Using the full space of the Olivier, designer Chloe Lamford sweeps a platform forwards, backlit with increasingly powerful floodlights from Jon Clark, on which period-dressed singers contrast with contemporary musicians as they give a soaring rendition of part of the Requiem. Then the lights drop, the musical ecstacy pauses and Lucian Msamati’s Salieri gives an excoriating speech as he’s utterly consumed by jealousy – it’s an extraordinary theatrical moment.
Msamati (following on from Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom in what must be close to a career-best year for him) is simply superb as the Machiavellian manipulator who can’t believe God has forsaken him for another, his silky asides to the audience rich with biting comedy, his outrage never less than bitterly heartfelt. Adam Gillen is a brattish vision in baby pink Doc Martens along with his finery, a magnificently awesome display of genius-wrapped arrogance that clearly irritates the court as much as his music inspires, and there’s crucial work too from Karla Crome as Mozart’s lover, then wife Constanze, a smaller but no less significant role of real heart.
The biological inaccuracies, such as they are, may still frustrate some but as a psychological study of jealousy, and how we – both as society and individuals – treat those considered to possess genius, Amadeus is a powerful play indeed and this is undoubtedly a stunning production thereof. We’re also amusingly often reminded of the dangers of making judgments – the court often scoffs at Mozart’s work, some people may have previously been unimpressed by this play – but I’m throwing my hat in with this, a resounding success for a cast and creative team at the top of their game, and the perfect tribute to Shaffer.
Running time: 3 hours (with interval)Photos: Marc BrennerBooking until 2nd February, more performances to be announced soon and £20 Friday Rush and £15 Day Tickets available, even for sold out performances.
2016 marks the fourteenth Travelex Tickets season at the National Theatre.
On 2nd February 2017, Amadeus will be broadcast live to over 680 screens around the UK – more info at www.ntlive.com
New play about a self-made career woman is well acted, but rather predictable and banal in its writing.