Preludes at Southwark Playhouse
Rare is a show so accurately billed as Preludes, “a musical fantasia set in the hypnotised mind of Sergei Rachmaninoff”. It’s twisted, it’s trancey and it’s very good.
Three years after his failed symphony, Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff is still struggling to write. At the behest of his wife Natalya, he goes to talk to a hypnotherapist. And there starts this musical of dark thoughts, existential worries and memories blurring into each other.
The music is indescribable. Classic piano flows into trance beats while the cast sing and dance. It’s strange but mesmerising. And coupled with the rippling neon lights, this production is absolutely intoxicating.
But perhaps the best thing about the show is its discovery of Keith Ramsay. Rachmaninoff has got to be one of the most demanding roles this year and Ramsay’s powerful performance is equal parts heart-punching and face-wrenching. The chilling intensity with which he speaks every word is something special. He’s certainly one to watch in the coming years.
His other half, the more stoic piano-playing part of Rachmaninoff, is played by Tom Noyes. Sat at the grand piano throughout the show, the performer not only provides much of the wonderful music but also delivers some of the more thunderous moments when he unexpectedly makes a move.
Preludes doesn’t quite strike the perfect note though. As an English cast playing Russian characters, one would expect the accents to be either English or Russian. But the cast speaks with American accents throughout which, in its confusion, is off-putting.
There’s also a matter of the length. A few of the scenes, particularly in Act II, seem to drag on, which has the effect of needlessly undercutting whatever they were were building up to.
Ultimately, Preludes is deeply intriguing. It’s a musical that combines things that probably shouldn’t be combined: classical piano compositions with theatrical singing, trance beats and neon lights. But somehow, it manages to create something hypnotic and darkly beautiful.
Photos: Scott Rylander
Preludes is at Southwark Playhouse from 6th September until 12th October 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.