The Chess Player

This mesmerising adaptation of Stefan Zweig’s novella gives you no choice but to be completely immersed into a tiny room with a Nazi prisoner, as he attempts to cling to sanity using the game of chess. Tangible claustrophobia saturates this production, reaching out and grasping the audience as Richard McElvain breathtakingly invites you to share his trauma.

An absolute must see not only for entertainment purposes, but as a necessary piece of theatre in which to immerse oneself.

It is unnerving to physically sense his mental disorientation, and witness as he slips further into a raging madness. McElvain, writer and solo performer, delivers an astonishing transfer of emotion as his character’s psychology unravels, evident from the most violent physical actions to the slightest change in countenance. He mentally leads the audience in a perpetually frustrating cycle of order and disorder, all the time delivering jump-cutting events with the utmost clarity.

His eclectic menagerie of characters, each with their own set of distinguishable individual characteristics, effectively conveys a room full of people; McElvain’s fluctuations in personality are so quick and subtle but it is always crystal clear on whom the spotlight shines. From the get go he embodies an array of accents, gestures, postures, tones and eccentricities – the results are a spectacle.

There are metatheatrical elements to the show see McElvain shake himself of character to confront the audience as the playwright. He discusses how the story is not really about chess, it is about survival, our dependency upon illusion which keeps us sane. It is fascinating to watch him come out of a role, yet still engross with his natural storytelling ability.

This show is an absolute must see not only for entertainment purposes, but as a necessary piece of theatre in which to immerse oneself. Any effort to concentrate is eschewed by McElvain as he personifies the story with such commitment, ensuring that a whole audience is suitably unsettled, historically educated and emotionally enlightened by this harrowing tale.

Reviews by Yasmin Duggal

C venues – C primo

The Chess Player

★★★★★
C venues – C royale

Stegosaurus

★★★★★
C venues – C too

Five Kinds of Silence

★★★
C venues – C primo

Morgan Stern

★★★
C venues – C royale

How to Be a Sissy with Percy Q Shun

★★★★
Zoo

The Concrete Jungle Book

★★★★

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Performances

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The Blurb

Imprisoned in solitary confinement by the Nazis, a stolen book of chess games allows The Prisoner to cling to sanity, dividing his mind into two feuding chess masters. After his escape, the play’s climax follows him to a chess tournament. Daring himself to walk the edge of a volcano of madness, he challenges the greatest chess player in the world to a match. Richard McElvain returns to the Fringe with a world premiere based on Stefan Zweig’s classic short story, published as The Royal Game.

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