Chichester Festival Theatre‘s £22m revamp was finally revealed last night at the opening of Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus which saw Rupert Everett give the stage performance of a lifetime as Salieri.
The vast thrust stage has been given a sumptuous Baroque makeover by set designer Simon Higlett who has gone to town with lavish chandeliers, burnished copper and brass and lots of mirrors.
From the dark splendour an old man is wheeled on while the theatre is filled with ghostly whispers – “Salieri! Assassin!” It takes a moment to recognise Everett.
In what he expects to be the final hours before his death the former court composer recounts his relationship with the child prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Shaffer should have called the play Salieri but, as the character himself points out, he was cursed to have a lifetime’s success largely forgotten while Mozart’s name lives on.
Let’s face it, for most of us not attuned to classical music, the name Antonio Salieri meant nothing before Shaffer’s play and film version in the 1980s.
This is a huge role for Everett who has seen a remarkable revival of his stage career in recent years – largely due to his growing maturity in attitude and age.
He proved a tremendous success in Chichester’s Pygmalion before conquering the West End as Oscar Wilde in The Judas Kiss.
Here he takes command from the outset. Most of the play is Salieri’s monologues to the audience. He’s not off stage for a minute of this thrilling 160-minute performance.
Salieri was devout, honourable and highly ambitious but he became deeply jealous by the arrival of Mozart, an infant prodigy and now an arrogant 20-something, at the royal court in Vienna.
He became driven in trying to destroy Mozart, recognizing the man’s unquestionable talent.
But Mozart was his own worst enemy. Too arrogant and wildly erratic, he couldn’t get pupils, his work struggled to find favour and he was reduced to abject poverty before dying aged just 35 years.
Joshua McGuire’s tempestuous performance as Mozart is wonderfully eccentric.
The diminutive actor gives a dynamic turn as the crazed composer, complete with delirious laugh and manic behaviour. He doesn’t stop grinning through the entire first act.
Jessie Buckley makes a feisty partner as Mozart’s wife Constanze while Simon Jones delivers up a memorably madcap Austrian emperor.
Chichester’s artistic director Jonathan Church is at the helm of this stupendous production.
The story flags a little in the second act as Salieri continues to plot and scheme but comes together at the end as the now seriously ill Mozart struggles to survive.
Amadeus runs until August 2.