That this is Michael Longhurst’s debut in this theatre makes it all the more impressive and I wouldn’t be surprised if his name doesn’t soon become one of the ones bandied around the round of musical chairs that is London artistic directorships.
So why doesn’t the current production of Lettice and Lovage at the Menier Chocolate Factory push my buttons? I fear it suffers from Forty Years On Syndrome – a circumstance whereby even with what seems like dream casting of Richard Wilson as an irascible headmaster, Alan Bennett’s masterly first play comes up lifeless and irrelevant at Chichester.
Felicity Kendal hurls herself through it, bright-eyed and irresistibly overdramatic, plucking ever more nonsense from the air.
Felicity Kendal and Maureen Lipman will star in the first major London revival of Peter Shaffer’s Lettice and Lovage, directed by Trevor Nunn at the Menier Chocolate Factory.
Trevor Nunn returns to the Menier Chocolate Factory to direct major works from the two of the greatest British playwrights of the twentieth century – Terence Rattigan’s Love in Idleness and Peter Shaffer’s Lettice and Lovage.
Peter Shaffer’s play about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri has returned to the National theatre where it premiered in 1979. Lucian Msamati and Adam Gillen star as Salieri and his nemesis.
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
Fast-paced fun: Excellent comic timing is a feature of Arkle’s extremely enjoyable Black Comedy at the Royal Scots Club.
Crazy Coqs, London
*****Joe Stilgoe and Claire Martin
The syncopated excellence of Claire Martin and Joe Stilgoe has to be seen (and heard) to be believed. Martin, one of our finest jazz divas, defines insouciance as she controls her perfect timbre, her voice swooping like a seabird from the most glorious moment of an occasional mezzo trills, down to a luxuriously resonant contralto. Her pitch is perfect and her timing pinpoint – there is truly nothing more a cabaret singer could offer.
And then there’s Stilgoe. With a reverential impertinence that reminds one of Peter Shaffer’s young Amadeus, eschewing sheet music and much like a Transformer straight out of the recent movie franchise, he becomes one with his piano. Stilgoe really is that good. The pair’s set list, loosely themed around Springtime takes in the Great Songbooks from both sides of the pond and a segue that seamlessly joins Gershwin’s S’Wonderful, to Sam Cooke’s Wonderful World and which in less confident hands would appear cheesy, here just seems so natural. Not just a pianist, the young musician’s guitar playing is divine too and he also delivers a neat mimic of a muted trumpet. But it was only when sat at his piano that Stilgoe junior whistled at me, that I truly realised how proud of son Joe, dad Richard should truly be.
For an evening packed with gems, the rest is detail. The pair (whose harmonies were always perfectly aligned) gave a cracking treatment to Sinatra’s That’s Life and also enchanted in Legrand’s Watch What Happens. Martin soloed sublimely with April In Paris, whilst her treatment of the Garland classic Get Happy! referenced the Hollywood star in style, yet bore a fresh interpretation that was nothing short of sensational.
No matter their patter occasionally drifted. On this night the singing was all that counted and rarely are two performers so marvellously melded. They’re only here for a week, don’t miss ‘em!
In residence until 28th March
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