Tag Archives: Alex Sutton

Preludes

★★★★

Southwark Playhouse

Preludes

Preludes

Southwark Playhouse

Reviewed – 11th September 2019

★★★★

 

“It’s warped and weird; intriguingly surreal”

 

Sergei Rachmaninoff was just beginning his career as one of Russia’s most promising composers when he was struck with crippling depression. For three years he was unable to write music and eventually began seeing a hypnotherapist to overcome his creative block. Dave Malloy’s Preludes, originally produced off-Broadway in 2015, reimagines these years. Filled with Rachmaninoff’s music, and framed as a series of hypnotherapy sessions, the story follows the young musician’s journey back from the brink. Alex Sutton directs the London premier.

Described as “a musical fantasia set in the hypnotised mind of Sergei Rachmaninoff”, the show fits the bill. It’s warped and weird; intriguingly surreal. A blend of present and past, the world is a dreamlike confusion of modern-day New York City and 1890s Moscow. Rach and his friends take the subway to meet Tolstoy, and he must ask permission from the Czar to marry. Malloy reinforces this alternate universe with modern adaptations of Rachmaninoff’s compositions. The grand piano on stage is flanked by two keyboards (Jordan Li-Smith and Billy Bullivant).

The hybrid music is a successful experiment. Although Malloy’s lyrics can feel simple and uninspired at times, the cast’s strong vocal performances are a treat. Georgia Louise stands out in particular, and Norton James and Rebecca Caine’s operatic voices nicely contribute to the show’s clash between modern musical and nineteenth century opera.

Preludes’ setting is impossibly tricky: it’s Russia and America; 2019 and late 1890s; it mostly takes place inside a character’s mind. But set and costume designer Rebecca Brower has risen to the challenge. Rach (Keith Ramsay) wears a long overcoat, black combat boots, and eyeliner. He has the double-headed eagle insignia of the Russian Empire tattooed on his back. Natalya (Georgia Louise) wears a blouse, a long taffeta skirt, and Superga trainers. Brower’s set frames the stage in concentric rectangular shapes which light up with the music, invoking an EDM concert as well as a trance-inducing illusion: a canny reminder that the scenes are figments of a hypnotised mind – that we should be prepared for the distorted and the unreal. It all comes together to create an uneasy yet appealing aesthetic.

Like Rach’s psyche, the show divides the artist in two: there’s the tortured young man (Ramsay), and his music (Tom Noyes). Cleverly, the two manifestations occasionally acknowledge or disrupt each other. Ramsay is ideal as the troubled genius. His hunched shoulders and wide eyes give him a haunted air. He’s the sensitive, uncertain artist, wounded by the world, and at the same time the defiant punk Malloy believes the composer was at heart – deliberately wanting his music to upset his teachers, to blow the walls off tradition with his big, loud, chaotic scores. Noyes is at the piano throughout, and his performance is a delight. Steven Serlin brings much of the comedy with his characters (Chekov, Tolstoy, the Czar). He plays nicely off Ramsay’s insecurity and gloominess.

While Preludes is smart, imaginative, and greatly enjoyable, there are moments where it falters. The beginning takes a while to get going. The wedding scene, which begins compelling and funny with Serlin’s Czar, runs on and becomes saccharine with discussion of where God can be found. The painfully long guided hypnotism near the end will test your patience.

But as a whole, the show’s strengths outweigh its flaws. Inventive and enticingly strange, Preludes is a fantastical celebration of music. It’s playful and irreverent with a deep love of its subject at its heart. Malloy and Sutton seem to be arguing Rachmaninoff would have appreciated the audacity. They might be right.

 

Reviewed by Addison Waite

Photography by Scott Rylander

 


Preludes

Southwark Playhouse until 12th October

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
All In A Row | ★★ | February 2019
Billy Bishop Goes To War | ★★★ | March 2019
The Rubenstein Kiss | ★★★★★ | March 2019
Other People’s Money | ★★★ | April 2019
Oneness | ★★★ | May 2019
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button | ★★★★★ | May 2019
Afterglow | ★★★½ | June 2019
Fiver | ★★★★ | July 2019
Dogfight | ★★★★ | August 2019
Once On This Island | ★★★ | August 2019

 

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The Night Before Christmas
★★★

Southwark Playhouse

The Night Before Christmas

The Night Before Christmas

Southwark Playhouse

Reviewed – 30th November 2018

★★★

“This not-at-all-family-friendly Christmas tale is wickedly clever, and doesn’t fail to draw laughs”

 

It’s Christmas Eve, and Simon (Michael Salami) is less than thrilled to be called out of bed in the middle of the night. His friend, Gary (Douggie McMeekin), has caught an Elf (Dan Starkey) breaking into his warehouse. Or at least a man dressed like an elf. Elf claims he fell from Santa’s sleigh. Gullible Gary is inclined to believe him. Cynical Simon tells Gary to call the police. Elf begs to be let go, plying them with detailed information about Santa, including the Powdered Christmas Feeling (PCF) he gives to children (great high, no side effects).

Gary and Simon are still deliberating what to do when sex-worker Cherry (Unique Spencer) arrives, demanding the Power Rangers for her son Gary promised her in exchange for sex. Elf says he needs to get back to Santa’s sleigh, but when Cherry checks his arms, she finds track marks. Obviously a junkie. Elf protests, it’s just PFC! He’ll grant each of them one wish if they’ll just let him go…

This not-at-all-family-friendly Christmas tale is wickedly clever, and doesn’t fail to draw laughs. It’s also touching – surprisingly Christmas-spirited – as even the most jaded adults manage to rediscover the Christmas feeling.

Director Alex Sutton’s revival of Anthony Neilson’s play, which premiered in London in 1995, is as sweary and gritty (real cigarettes smoked on stage) as its “in-yer-face” author intended. Unfortunately though, the story has just got started when it’s dragged to a near-standstill by overly-lengthy expositional dialogue. Gary and Simon spend too long questioning Elf and not believing him. Their extended Q&A interrogates the rules of Santa’s operation to an unnecessary extent, and while Elf’s explanation is unique, it’s pure exposition. The performance feels stalled with Simon constantly threatening to call the police, and neither of them making a decision. When Cherry finally arrives on the scene, it’s like being yanked out of the mud. The pace falters again later with the characters’ circular debate over which wishes to choose. When a play has a 65-minute runtime, it’s not good for scenes to feel long.

McMeekin, Salami, and Spencer give high-energy, confident performances with skilled comedic timing. Starkey’s decision to play the elf straightforward – distressed and desperate – forgoes some of the potential comedy in the role. Designer Michael Leopold has made effective use of a sparse set, and delights the audience with some well-timed ‘Christmas magic.’

Considering Soho Theatre’s 2013 revival of The Night Before Christmas was a musical, there’s a question of whether this 2018 revival has anything to add to the original. The script provides an excellent premise, but it feels as though Sutton has missed an opportunity to address its flaws, and contribute a fresh perspective.

The Night Before Christmas is fun, silly, ‘alternative’ Christmas theatre, but this revival doesn’t lift the play above the original’s pitfalls.

 

Reviewed by Addison Waite

Photography by Darren Bell

 


The Night Before Christmas

Southwark Playhouse until 29th December

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Old Fools | ★★★★★ | March 2018
The Country Wife | ★★★ | April 2018
Confidence | ★★ | May 2018
The Rink | ★★★★ | May 2018
Why is the Sky Blue? | ★★★★★ | May 2018
Wasted | ★★★ | September 2018
The Sweet Science of Bruising | ★★★★ | October 2018
The Trench | ★★★ | October 2018
The Funeral Director | ★★★★★ | November 2018
Seussical The Musical | ★★★★ | November 2018

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