Chess - The Musical

There’s one thing I hate about musical theatre, which is especially common with “amateur” productions – there’s seemingly no way of stopping audiences full of family and friends from concluding nigh on every scene, every song, with a burst of applause. The stuttering result does little to help even the most modest of narrative flows.

everyone involved in this enthusiastic production from Edinburgh Music Theatre can hold their heads up high.

That said, everyone involved in this enthusiastic production from Edinburgh Music Theatre can hold their heads up high. Impressive thanks to its relative simplicity, the staging never looks cluttered despite involving a full cast of 40. The small orchestra of 11 players – partially visible at the back of the stage – also cope well with the score, although unfortunately lacking the punch needed for the really big opening of the second act. Still, Murray Head’s caustic take on One Night in Bangkok is a hard act to follow for anyone.

Especially for Ali Floyd, who boldly grasps the Head-originated role of brattish American grandmaster Freddie Trumper. Floyd gives us the McEnroe-esque swagger and tantrums easily enough – you quickly want to slap his face – but it possibly takes longer than it should for us to see the man behind that “brilliant lunatic” facade. In contrast, Kenneth Pinkerton — as Trumper’s Soviet opponent Anatoly Sergievsky – benefits from his character’s more stoic nature, and is thus able to engender audience sympathy more quickly through his character’s self-doubts. Josephine Heinemeier as Florence Vassey – Freddie’s assistant, and later Anatoly’s lover – meantime negotiates the difficult job of journeying dramatically between the two men. While her voice can be hard-edged on occasions, it does suit the 1980s style of much of the score.

Chess has undergone several significant re-workings since the launch of the original “concept album” back in 1984, so it’s only to be expected that director Michael Davies would bring a few “tweaks” of his own. His decision to split the role of chess Arbiter in two, though, is a puzzling one; it lends little additional strength to the production, except when the pair – Colin Richardson and Jennifer Good – assume god-like positions at the raised chess table, looking down on the characters and the drama unfolding below. For the most part, however, their alternating lines are simply distracting, their dual positioning seemingly more about shifting the gender-balance of performers on stage than maintaining any narrative focus.

Where this production does slip-up slightly, though, is with its vocal and dramatic clarity; while all of the performers are miked up, there are plenty of occasions — during ensemble singing, duets, even solos – when their diction is sufficiently unclear to ensure certain important narrative points fail to connect with sufficient punch. Perhaps not a problem for those already familiar with the musical, but for a first-time audience member, it’s surely not a good sign to discover one of the American characters is a CIA agent by reading the programme notes, rather than from what they’ve seen and heard on stage.

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

Multiple Venues

Nests

★★★
Dundee Rep Theatre / Macrobert Arts Centre

The Yellow on the Broom

★★★
Underbelly, Bristo Square

Tom Neenan: It's Always Infinity

★★★★
Assembly George Square Studios

Police Cops in Space

★★★★★
Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre

Rik Carranza: Still a Fan

★★★★
Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre

Marmite

★★★★

Performances

Location

The Blurb

With original music from ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn and lyrics by Tim Rice, the world-famous musical explores themes of love and the Cold War through the prism of international grandmaster-level chess.