Review: Preludes, Southwark Playhouse

An extraordinary piece of boundary-pushing musical theatre, Preludes is a special delight at the Southwark Playhouse

“Dangling on the melting edge of sleep”

You’d think there would come a point where it barely seems worth mentioning that musical theatre is a genre which contains multitudes, yet the stereotypical image of jazz hands prevails, people so easily writing off ever seeing any musical. I’m not saying that Dave Malloy’s Preludes would be the first choice to try and convince them otherwise, but it would certain shatter their preconceptions.

Malloy’s study of a crucial period in the life of Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninov is startlingly imaginative. Using the hypnotherapy sessions Rach endured in real life, Malloy delves into the realm of all their possibilities, to explore the demons that plague him, the complexity of his creative process, the society that trammels him, endlessly slipping between past and present, fantasy and reality.

This he does through a thrilling mix of live piano (played by Tom Noyes) and electronics (Jordan Li-Smith and Billy Bullivant on keyboards), creating a truly idiosyncratic hybrid of his own and Rachmaninoff’s compositions that sound like nothing else. Keith Ramsay presents Rach as a jagged edge of his personality, sweatily, nervily intense under Rebecca Caine’s keen gaze as his therapist (who thankfully gets an amazing number to sing). 

And it looks fantastic under Alex Sutton’s direction. The sharp angles of Rebecca Brower’s design sets the tone of this off-kilter world, complemented by Christopher Nairne’s striking lighting. My only complaint would come with the all-too-familiar biographical trope of great artists (men) creating great art at the expense of those who love them (women) without exploring their contributions too. That said, it doesn’t celebrate them either, this Rach is truly fucked up, as is this musical, and it is pretty great. 

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Scott Rylander
Preludes is booking at the Southwark Playhouse until 12th October

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