THE BLOG

The Latest London National Theatre Live Offering Has Local Interest

Lucien is the first black actor to play the much prized role of Salieri in this latest revival of the iconic Peter Shaffer 's Amadeus.

03/03/2017 05:01 SAST | Updated 03/03/2017 09:17 SAST
Lucian Msamati / NT Live

The next National Theatre Live broadcast to screen at Cinema Nouveau nationwide is the 2016 National Theatre production of Peter Shaffer's Amadeus, starring Adam Gillen and Karla Crome as Mozart and his wife, and Game of Throne's Lucian Msamati (Zimbabwean educated) as the composer's great rival Salieri. Directed by Michael Longhurst, Amadeus was filmed live for global broadcast with orchestral accompaniment by the 30-piece Southbank Sinfonia orchestra. It releases at Cinema Nouveau theatres on Saturday, (March 4) for four screenings only.

Shaffer's iconic play tells the story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Gillen), an obnoxious young prodigy, who arrives in Vienna, the music capital of the world at that time – determined to make a splash. Awestruck by his genius, court composer Antonio Salieri (Msamati) has the power to promote his talent or destroy his name. Seized by obsessive jealousy, he begins a war with Mozart, with music and, ultimately, with God. The wild dreams of a Zimbabwean-educated young boy have propelled him onto the London stage, something few would have believed all those years ago.

"I do pinch myself," says Lucian Msamati and a sense of wonder remains even though he always believed, even back then, that if the opportunity arose, he would make it. "We all want to test ourselves against the best and perform in places like London, New York and LA, all of which have the profile, the breadth and the reach." In the same breath he adds: "People make assumptions about individuals and that's when I love blowing them away." This he has done often with auditions, obvious from his impressive résumé. After all, playwright Peter Shaffer, before he died recently, was the one who gave the nod to Lucian for this particular performance of Salieri.

Lucian first dipped his toe into these international waters with his Zimbabwean acting company Over the Edge which started performing annually at the Edinburgh Festival where they won over the right hearts with synchronically, South African born and educated Anthony Sher, being the first to get Lucian onto a London stage at the turn of this century.

It's been a few years short of two decades now, and he does hold on to those memories of dusty streets and township performances and clings to the hunger, knowing that if it should ever die, he would stop acting. "Fame is bullshit. I've never seen anyone gain anything in their performance because of fame!" Lucian is the first black actor to play the much prized role of Salieri in this latest revival of the iconic Peter Shaffer 's Amadeus which when you go into the National Theatre booking site, seems completely sold out.

It's been a huge success with both critics and audiences mainly because of the exciting casting and the complete integration of Mozart's music with a live orchestra – a stroke of genius. Lucian loves the introduction of the music into the heartbeat of the play. "You get to hear what Salieri is up against," he notes.

Mike Brenner, NT Live

The approach and the courageous yet also inspired casting have brilliantly combined to make this one sit so magically at this time.

Lucian isn't crazy about the moniker of black actor, yet he faces the reality of the world. "But I have never looked at anything I chose to read, watch or listen to with those criteria in mind," he says. He knows this is a unique time and place for black stories to be owned and put out there and he acknowledges that.

"I was fortunate to grow up in a place where the majority looked like me. It was also a place where I could be just an actor." He knows that is what everyone is working towards now.

That's why he is also adamant that we should never stop having the "uncomfortable conversations. There's strength in both our differences and our unity," he believes.

He was very familiar with the play when he was first cast having first seen the film and an earlier Zimbabwean production. He remembers that at the time he loved the work because it was so brazenly unapologetic and boldly truthful which reminded him of African theatre. "Salieri's fate feels a little like that of a jilted lover," he says succinctly. It's not that he has to understand his character's reasoning or agree with him but he has to respond to what his Salieri is doing to make the performance sing.

"When I pick something I want to do, the question I usually ask is whether it makes my juices sing," he explains, and whether the story resonates. Often the universality of a story like Amadeus or Fences for example makes it work, no matter your race, nationality or gender.

Photographer Mark Brenner, NT Live
Adam Gillen as Amadeus

Lucian believes the same is true for Amadeus. "Who of us hasn't at some stage wondered about someone's brilliance at the same thing you, yourself, are good at? Who doesn't know that knot in the stomach? That touch of envy?

With Game of Thrones also in his stars, he's not talking much about the future, but it is all happening for Lucian Msamati and he is living the moment while giving his best – like a true African.

Amadeus releases on South African screens from Saturday, March 4, for four screenings only: on 4, 8 and 9 March at 7.30pm and on 5 March at 2.30pm at Cinema Nouveau theatres in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town. The running time of this production is approximately 210 mins, including an interval.