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Review of Preludes at Southwark Playhouse

Preludes - Keith Ramsay as Rach
Preludes – Keith Ramsay as Rach

Alex Sutton’s production brings a strong cast together and tells an intense story on mental health and self-deprecation. Written and orchestrated by Dave Malloy (recently known for multiple Tony-nominated show ‘Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812’), Preludes tells the story of Sergei Rachmaninoff. Rachmaninoff, a renowned composer from a young age and now struggling with paranoia and depression, is living with the memory of a bad event that has halted his entire creativity and career. He seeks help through hypnotherapy whilst he struggles to maintain the relationship he has with his finance Natalya.

Keith Ramsey, takes on the role of Sergei Rachmaninoff and adds an enigmatic flare to the character – you listen to his every word and watch his every blink in this captivating and rightfully hypnotic performance. Ramsey is then counterbalanced by his more controlled co-star Rebecca Caine, who plays Dahl – Rachmaninoff’s hypnotherapist trying to help him manoeuvre himself through a difficult period in his life.

On the central piano is another version of Rachmaninoff, played by Tom Noyes. A much more poised and professional version – someone that Ramsey’s character struggles to see himself as. As the play develops, their relationship strengthens and Noyes’ character, who at first you think is just there to play the beautiful compositions, becomes more likeable and poignant to the story.

The cast are a strong ensemble. They are all talented vocalists – which is what needed when the music and melodies in the play are so contrasting and cross genres throughout.

The music blends in with the book well. So much so that I see this more like a play with music rather than the ‘musical fantasia’ that it’s described. Alex Sutton’s direction is clean yet effective, much like Rebecca Brower’s simply beautiful set design. Though, Christopher Nairne’s lighting design is incredibly impressive and powerful. It’s still the main aspect of the show strongly stuck in my mind. A section involving strobe effects, smoke and excessive lighting in the second act is the highlight of this intense show.

As someone who knew close to nothing about Rachmaninoff’s life before Dave Malloy’s Preludes, I’ve left intrigued about him and all the people portrayed in his life. The cast carries the story strongly and Preludes is a show to catch for those interested in mental health, alternative musicals and obscure biopics. See whilst you still can!

4 stars

Review by Tomm Ingram

Sergei Rachmaninoff has it all; world-wide fame from a single composition by the age of 19, commissioned to write his first symphony at 20 and engaged to the love of his life, Natalya. But at 21 he is crippled with a depressive paranoia and anxiety. His world has imploded, his work has stopped, he cannot even lift a pencil to compose a simple melody. Such is the power of the men who sought to destroy him, who haunt his waking nightmares and poison his dreams. And when those men happen to be the greatest artists of their day, how do you come back, how do you escape the darkness and come into the light?

Based on a true story of Rachmaninoff’s sessions of hypnotherapy, Preludes is an extraordinary new musical by three-time Tony Award-nominee Dave Malloy. It examines the crippling debilitation and harm the world can do to people, and how the dramatic and musical process can be used as therapy to restore them back into the fullest of creative lives.

The cast is Rebecca Caine, Norton James, Georgia Louise, Tom Noyes, Keith Ramsay and Tim Walton.

Direction by Alex Sutton. Set and costume design by Rebecca Brower. Lighting design by Christopher Nairne. Sound design by Andrew Johnson. Choreography by Ste Clough. Musical direction by Jordan Li-Smith. Casting by Danielle Tarento.

Southwark Playhouse
77-85 Newington Causeway
London SE1 6BD


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