Libby Purves speaks to Rupert Evervett about his new role as Mozart’s rival, Salieri:

"IT’S quite a modern showbiz story if you think about it. Salieri is perceived as important. He’s a successful court composer. Mozart is new and criticised for putting in ‘too many notes’. It’s a case of something worse being perceived as much better. The world of showbiz today is full of successful Salieris.”

In the opening production of the newly refurbished Chichester Festival Theatre, Rupert Everett takes on the role of mediocre court composer Salieri.

Peter Shaffer’s central character both adores Mozart for the music he composes, but seeks to destroy the upstart and uncouth former prodigy played by Joshua McGuire.

“Salieri admits that all he really has is great ears,” says Everett midway through rehearsals.

“He knows what’s good but it’s not him who can do it.

“Failure and jealousy are the easiest things to access – one can identify with that as an actor.”

He wasn’t tempted to draw on his own religious upbringing to portray Salieri’s railing against God during the play.

“Salieri is meant to be Catholic but he almost immediately rejects Christ in fury for giving the gift to Mozart,” he says.

“It feels more Jewish than Catholic – that relationship you read about in the Bible, the Old Testament – they’re always screaming up at God and bellyaching – Abraham, Jonah, they make bargains with God. The Christian tradition is more humble towards God. Accepting. But Salieri is up there confronting him. It’s a kind of madness, to do battle with God in the person of the composer who he gave the talent to.”

Amadeus marks Everett’s third stage production with Chichester Festival Theatre and his first with artistic director Jonathan Church.

It follows starring roles as Professor Henry Higgins in Pygmalion during the 2010 festival, and Oscar Wilde in the Chichester co–production of David Hare’s The Judas Kiss in 2012 which went to the West End.

In that last role he spent most of his time sitting down, as the ageing wit watched the younger Bosie cavort around him.

“If any director is willing to let you sit still and concentrate, not go batting about, it’s wonderful,” says Everett. “I would love to sit still, always.

“Jonathan is very dynamic, fast–moving as a director. The man dashes everywhere – I have to keep up.

“In the play Salieri is like an X–Factor commentator. He’s the one who comes forward and presents to the audience directly.”

He admits to feeling his age on stage, particularly compared to McGuire and Jessie Buckley who plays Mozart’s wife Constanze.

“Compare me to Jessie and Josh, who are mindbogglingly good, and I’m like one of those old computers with a big square back,” he says.

“I’m basically somewhere about Windows 2, and they’re modern high speed processors. When you get older the acting gets harder and harder. When you’re young everything is possible. Now it’s more of an issue. Everything is – in life as well as on stage. I’m just a big steam engine and they’re supercars.”

AMADEUS: Chichester Festival Theatre, Oaklands Park, Chichester, Saturday, July 12, to Saturday, August 2