Tag Archives: Rebecca Caine

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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Harold and Maude – 4 Stars

Harold

Harold and Maude

Charing Cross Theatre

Reviewed – 26th February 2018

★★★★

“Southerland’s presentation remains faithful to the original while adding a few eccentric touches of his own that enhance the narrative”

 

You know the comedy is going to be black when the play opens with the young lead placing a noose around his neck and hanging himself. His mother’s reaction to finding him suspended is shockingly hilarious, and I imagine more so if you are not already familiar with the original seventies cult film.

Incorporating dark humour and existential drama, “Harold and Maude” revolves around the relationship between the young, morbid Harold and the carefree, septuagenarian Maude whose outlook on life takes quirkiness to a whole new level. Through Maude’s influence, Harold loses his obsession with death and embraces life.

Written by the late Colin Higgins, who also wrote the screenplay in the early seventies, Thom Southerland’s presentation remains faithful to the original while adding a few eccentric touches of his own that enhance the narrative, steering it well clear of whimsicality. There are shades of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “Amelie” in Southerland’s direction and, with Francis O’Connor’s primary coloured set, the surrealism is set in stone, giving us license to enjoy and find humour in the characters’ psychotic tendencies.

Sheila Hancock is charismatic, effervescent and totally mischievous as Maude. She sweeps the audience along in the wake of her comically carefree truisms, yet, in the later scenes hints at a sadness that simmers just below the surface. The energy of her onstage presence would shame many an actor half her age. Except Bill Milner, of course, who has the unenviable task of winning over the audience as Harold. But he does this with ease, convincingly portraying his journey from morose alienation towards self-realisation. It is a touching performance and consequently we find that his fondness for a woman sixty years his senior does not seem unhealthy. The attraction is romantic, yes, but not physical which heightens the tenderness. “The main thing in life is not to be afraid to be human” Maude tells him. Disarmingly she follows this up with the assertion that “over time clichés become profundities, and vice versa”. It is this self-deprecation in the writing that thwarts any accusations of mawkishness.

But the two leads do not monopolise the show. The ensemble cast, who rarely leave the stage throughout the evening, all add sparkle. Rebecca Caine is tremendous as Harold’s domineering mother who has decided that it is time for him to get married. Enrolling him into a dating agency gives extra comedy mileage when we are introduced to Harold’s prospective dates – all played with show-stealing versatility by Joanna Hickman.

The icing on the cake is the live music, scored by Michael Bruce. When not directly involved in the scenes the actors are underscoring the dialogue or deftly linking the scenes; on clarinet, cello, double bass, piano, accordion, guitar and banjo. There is a wonderful moment, too, when the cello replicates the manic voice on the other end of a telephone line. It’s these little touches that add to the magic, such as costume designer Jonathan Lipman’s decision to dress Harold and his shrink in identical jacket and tie.

The humour is matched by the compassion. In the second act when it shifts from surrealism to realism the final dialogue between Harold and Maude is both moving and life affirming. The resounding message is exemplified by Maude’s provoking question: “Are you going to do it or are you only going to hear about it second hand?”

Exactly!

I’d urge you to see this production. Don’t be content with just hearing about it second hand.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Darren Bell

 

Harold and Maude

Charing Cross Theatre until 31st March

 

 

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