Preludes in Concert at Southwark Playhouse online
Mixing a dazzling spectacle with a powerful use of lighting and a strange, trance-like plot is about as weird as one would expect. Preludes in Concert, premiered at Southwark Playhouse in 2019 as the Preludes musical, makes its comeback in a live-streamed concert performance that is an often bombastic onslaught of psychedelic impressions – but quite a bit of a drag in its weaker moments.
Dave Malloy’s brainchild offers some remarkable highlights, but occasional moments feel out of place or contribute little, especially in the second act. The plot is centred around composer Sergei Rachmaninoff (Keith Ramsay), who visits hypnotherapist Dahl (Rebecca Caine), after having suffered three years of depression. Most of the runtime involves him reminiscing about his living as part of Russia’s creative elite and his complex relationship with his fiancée – and first cousin – Natalia (Georgia Louise).
The production itself is rather amazing, with neon lights by Andrew Exeter and fascinating set designs by Rebecca Brower stealing the show. Everything looks and feels mesmeric, fitting superbly well with the theme of hypnosis. But while this dazzles in the first act, it only does little to maintain interest in the second. It’s not all bad but there are some serious pacing issues in certain scenes; indeed, the runtime could be cut quite a bit at the cost of the weaker moments.
The music is a mix of classical – mainly Rachmaninoff’s, of course – and Malloy’s contemporary music. This occasionally features just one or the other, but at times they overlap, resulting in beautiful Romantic piano flowing into some intoxicating psychedelic beats. It’s certainly weird and doesn’t always work, but it remains curiously interesting. Even stranger, everything feels exceedingly American. Not that that’s a bad thing per se, but the setting evokes Russia in a particular period in time when there was, famously, a certain existential angst. Malloy’s portrayal feels more at home in contemporary Broadway than fin de siècle Russia, and he seems to think that it’s the same thing to be depressed in either period.
Be that as it may, Preludes is still a fascinating musical with many strong moments, and one can only admire how difficult it is simply to play Malloy’s Rachmaninoff – Ramsay does very well in acting a complex role. Audiences who enjoy idiosyncratic and psychedelic pleasures will find much to like here, though it may not be for everyone, especially at a runtime of over two hours.
Photo: Scott Rylander
Preludes in Concert is at Southwark Playhouse from 7th May until 8th May 2021. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.