Tag Archives: Tom Noyes

Preludes

Preludes in Concert

★★★★★

Online via Southwark Playhouse

Preludes

Preludes in Concert

Online via Southwark Playhouse

Reviewed – 7th May 2021

★★★★★

 

“it assaults our senses and soothes them in equal measure”

 

Aged just nineteen, Sergei Rachmaninoff wrote his Prelude in C-sharp minor to world-wide acclaim, was commissioned to write his first symphony and he was engaged to the love of his life. He seemed to have it all, yet within months a depressive paranoia and anxiety had stopped him in his tracks; a darkness that no doubt came from within but was also prompted in part by Tchaikovsky’s death, and by the effortful completion of his own Symphony No. 1 which was subsequently panned by the critics. The conductor, an alcoholic, was drunk at the premiere. But Rachmaninoff’s writer’s block had already set in. He was already displeased with his composition, feeling he had peaked too early with his Prelude, and the Orthodox church was thwarting his plans for marriage.

Composing had become impossible. How do you escape the darkness and come back into the light? All this, and more, is explored in Dave Malloy’s “Preludes” which examines, in extraordinary and beautifully surreal ways, the true story of this particular episode of his life. A musical fantasia set in the hypnotised mind of Sergei Rachmaninoff.

This is not just another musical about a tortured artist. Malloy, who wrote the book, music, lyrics and the orchestrations has crafted an enigma. It defies categories, but also mixes them. It feels experimental but is perfectly formed, it lulls you into its trance-like dreamscape but keeps your attention razor sharp; it mixes the past, present and future. We are in a world where Mahler, Reggae, Beethoven and Doo-Wop can share the same phrase, where Acid Trance weaves its rhythms into the phrases of a Piano Concerto.

The starting point is the composer’s session with his therapist Nikolai Dahl (Rebecca Caine). “How was your day?” she asks – not the question to ask a damaged, depressed artistic genius three years into a stifling breakdown. Keith Ramsay, as Rachmaninoff (or rather ‘Rach’), launches into a monologue which sets the pace for a tour de force performance. Ramsay is the picture of unsettled alienation; wide-eyed and wild-eyed, uncertain of his worth. Intense, chilling and hypnotising. His words bleed into Malloy’s haunting melodies which in turn flow into Rachmaninoff’s timeless compositions.

We are never too sure if the surrounding characters are in the composer’s mind or not, but under Alex Sutton’s riveting direction they are brought to vivid life. They circle him, cajole him and bravely try to help him. Georgia Louise, as Natalya, is pivotal to restoring the composer’s state of mind with her patience, stretched to the limit at times. There are moments when their voices collide in their duets when you can forget everything. Tolstoy, Tchaikovsky and Tsar Nicholas II brilliantly spill out of Rach’s mind into the camera shot, thanks to the vigour, versatility and virtuosity of Steven Serlin. Norton James, as Russian opera singer Chaliapin, plays with our minds with a Mephistophelean portrayal that verges on psychedelic madness. Crucial to the piece is Tom Noyes at the piano, letting the true genius of Rachmaninoff reveal itself through the musical accompaniment.

The production transfers from stage to camera in an astounding blaze of glory. Aided by Andrew Exeter’s lighting and Andrew Johnson’s eclectic sound it assaults our senses and soothes them in equal measure. Contradictions have never been more harmonious. The mix of classical music, musical theatre, trance beats, neon lights; introspection and overt humour, reality and fantasy, past and present, just would not work on paper. But on stage and on camera it is an intoxicating brew. Dark and beautiful. And hypnotic.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Scott Rylander

 


Preludes in Concert

Online via Southwark Playhouse until 8th May

 

Reviewed this year by Jonathan:
Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Hung Parliament | ★★★★ | Online | February 2021
The Picture of Dorian Gray | ★★★★ | Online | March 2021
Bklyn The Musical | ★★★★★ | Online | March 2021
Remembering the Oscars | ★★★ | Online | March 2021
Disenchanted | ★★★ | Online | April 2021

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

Fanny A New Musichall

Fanny A New Musichall

★★★★★

VAULT Festival 2020

Fanny A New Musichall

Fanny A New Musichall

Crescent – The Vaults

Reviewed – 18th February 2020

★★★★★

 

“absolutely stunning”

 

The Unruly Regiment, consisting of mother-daughter duo Carolyn Scott-Jeffs and Lizzie Wofford brought to the VAULT Festival an engaging and engaged new musical. And it is absolutely stunning.

Fanny wants to sing in music halls. Given she possesses the unbelievably strong voice of Lizzie Wofford as well as her charismatic stage presence, she may well succeed. But Fanny feels she needs to tell a story – a story of her friend Elsie who, as her cabaret counterpart, also “wasn’t what you call a blushing flower” and definitely “as a matter of fact, she rented by the hour”. Although “happiest corpse” she probably was not. The story of Elsie goes from nought to 100 in no time. What starts as a cheerful, slightly sentimental and genuinely funny journey to the world of music halls and Victorian morality (with audience participation galore) takes a much gloomier turn in the second half. The 19th century that is so often romanticised on stage and on screen, with all its dark sides blissfully covered over, is here with an unforgiving world of misery – particularly for women, and even more particularly – for prostitutes.

“Fanny: a New Musichall” was written by Carolyn Scott-Jeffs, and brilliantly so. It is very well composed – a traditional musical theatre formula (introducing songs in the first half, reprising them in the second) and the deconstruction of the story as well as the balance between comedic and tragic elements create a seamless and internally logical whole. Characters she created are unaffectedly engaging and easy for the audience to empathise with, richly brought to life by Tim Ford’s clever direction. Lizzie Wofford who plays Fanny and Elsie (and virtually every other character in Fanny’s tale about Elsie) is a powerhouse. Tom Noyes as Fanny’s a bit “funny” pianist is wonderfully hilarious. The musical arrangements by Peter John Dodsworth are quite brilliant, above all in the reprisals that extract a wholly different meaning from popular show tunes. Design (by Connie Watson), lighting (by Anna Reddyhoff) and costumes (on-budget variation on period attire) all complement “Fanny” in a perfectly fine if a tad unobtrusive way.

The only downside is, “Fanny: a New Musichall” runs for only three performances during the VAULT Festival. It is definitely not enough for a show that great.

 

Reviewed by Dominika Fleszar

 

VAULT Festival 2020

 

 

Click here to see all our reviews from VAULT Festival 2020