Review: Preludes in Concert (Southwark Playhouse)

Returning as a livestream following a successful stage run in 2019 (see my review here), Preludes, written by Dave Malloy, proves to be an affecting and moving experience built around the work of Sergei Rachmaninoff.

The young composer suffers from wrter’s block and is seeing a therapist to work his way through issues affecting his memory and understanding. It is a curious plot for a musical; but this is something far more complex.

The music is simply beautiful throughout, and now I know what to expect I can appreciate the switches between styles and pieces, rather than being nonplussed at times about what I was seeing. This is a show which repays multiple viewings (plus I saw a captioned performance, which was greatly appreciated).

Keith Ramsay is the lead (Rach), and I found his performance much more persuasive on this second viewing than I did on stage; his singing is especially fine, and his acting captures something of the confusion and fear when the mind fractures and doesn’t do what you want it to do.

Promotional image for Preludes

Rebecca Caine, as Nikolai Dahl, the therapist, navigates a tricky role with style and substance, while her operatic range is sublime, particularly in the Vespers, which was a highlight of the production on stage.

As the Rachmaninoff who plays piano and sings with gusto, Tom Noyes is excellent; while Steven Serlin’s The Master and Norton James’s Chaliapin are memorable.

Georgia Louise’s Natalya, the woman behind Rach’s domestic situation and professional success, is a little short-changed but performed with an intelligent understanding of the role and the wider significance of women within music.

What is important to understand about Preludes is that it is not a typical musical: instead, it plays with audience expectations and theatre genres to produce “a musical fantastia set in the hypnotised mind of Sergei Rachmaninoff”.

Therefore we see events through his memory, and they may not be reliable. Some sequences are disturbing and the sound can be overwhelming; at home, of course, you can reduce the volume as you wish.

Preludes image, credit Scott Rylander

The other two musicians, Jordan-Li Smith and Luke Holman, play keys without being obtrusive within the show: we rarely glimpse them in the screen version. The creative team is led by director Alex Sutton, with a reduced set than we saw on stage; it is helped along by sympathetic lighting from Andrew Exeter and sound design by Andrew Johnson.

Preludes in Concert is a sensory delight, and a totally unpredictable musical. I am very glad to have had this chance to take a look at the show in a very different form, and would recommend it to both fans of the stage version, and those who are perhaps unable to cope with an overload of lights, discordant sounds, and depictions of mental instability in person.

Preludes streamed from the Southwark Playhouse on 8-9 May 2021.

Check out my review of Dave Malloy’s Ghost Quartet at the Boulevard Theatre, 2019, here.

Image credit: Scott Rylander

LouReviews received complimentary access to review Preludes in Concert.