The Gambit

The Gambit, written by Mark Reid and directed by Matthew Gould, opens to the ticking of a chess stop-clock and, of course, a chess set centre stage. For any big fan of chess, this in itself is quite an exciting beginning. As the two most famous chess players of our time enter, a story unfolds of 25 years of absence, betrayal and loss as the two begin to speak.

This show is well worth a watch for chess fans and non-fans alike, though a very basic knowledge of Kasparov and Karpov adds a lot to the enjoyment of the show.

One would think that watching chess on stage could be somewhat dull; this is anything but the case here. The tension and focus summoned up by the pair of actors playing chess in the opening scene is absolute and not a word is spoken until the tension peaks. Nick Pearse plays a strong Garry (Kasparov), commanding attention with his assured confidence. The speed at which both actors play chess and deliver their lines is impressive, forging an essential part of the play’s energy.

Ben Rigby delivers a knock-out performance as Anatoly (Karpov) – we are totally drawn into the quieter moments of despair and loss of the character, and the moments of flaring anger are generous too. If anything fell down in Rigby’s work, it was that the monologue felt a touch too ‘acted’, but this was a minor chink in an immensely beautiful piece of work.

Matthew Gould’s direction is beautifully minimalist, which, along with the great work from the actors, summons an utterly naturalistic atmosphere, meaning that the tension feels as real as possible and brings us right in to the room with these two titans of chess.

The whole play aptly relates chess to life, highlighting the differences between the two: the first with rules, moves, and a resulting security and understanding which sets one free in the game. The second rule-less, risky and unknown to those less equipped to deal with the realities of relationships and the world.

This show is well worth a watch for chess fans and non-fans alike, though a very basic knowledge of Kasparov and Karpov adds a lot to the enjoyment of the show.

Reviews by Dixon Baskerville

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Performances

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The Blurb

Twenty-five years of betrayal played out on a chessboard. The lies, deceit and anger erupting in an epic clash between the defining Grandmasters of the 20th century. In the tradition of plays such as Frost/Nixon and Copenhagen, award winner The Gambit features a thrilling battle of wits between two titans of the game with opposing outlooks on life, each other and the game itself. 'Definitely a must-see ... an intense battle of ideas and ideals' (Steve Walker, Buxton Fringe Reviews).

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