Theatre Review: Chess

“Each game of chess means there’s one less

Variation left to be played

Each day got through means one or two

Less mistakes remain to be made”


Against the backdrop of the Cold War, any chance to reign superior is seen as a crucial one for both the USA and the USSR. Forget the space race – the Chess World Championship is where not only international reputations, but love and alliances, are bitterly fought out.

The Production Company takes a gamble with this performance. Chess has been historically difficult to stage and often struggled to find the right audience. A musical with a score written by former ABBA members, a hefty dose of chess metaphors and (at times) literal choreographed games played on stage is not for everyone. However, as usual, the Production Company stages this show giving it everything they’ve got, and, as usual, it pays off.

Whilst readers might be familiar with the ‘80s hit “One Night in Bangkok” (or might not be, given that this is a university publication and the majority of you would have been born in the ‘90s), the rest of the story might be less well known.

While a team of Soviet loyalists support their chess player, the well-meaning and by the book Anatoly Sergievsky, America’s Frederick “Freddie” Trumper is joined by his Hungarian born lover, Florence Vassy. The Arbiter introduces the players and the importance of the match, and the stakes are stressed by those on either side – the whole world is watching and the winner of this game establishes the credentials of his nation.

Enter the development of relationship between Sergievsky and Vassy, and the game’s consequences no longer only entail diplomatic relations, but also love.

Defection, blackmail, betrayal and drama all ensue as the musical continues and the title of World Champion is contested. The Hungarian revolution torments Vassy, as she’s constantly torn between attempting to balance her love life, the game itself, and the freedom of her father, who remains in Soviet hands.

The performances, both lead and supporting, are flawless in this show – the Production Company consistently turns out exceptionally tight performances within a relatively short rehearsal time, far exceeding shows with a much longer preparation. Silvie Paladino as Florence Vassy, Martin Crewes as Frederick Trumper and Simon Gleeson as Anatoly Sergievsky all turn out extraordinary lead performances, supported by a more than able cast with an uncanny capacity for Russian accents.

The production itself embraces, rather than skirts around, the camp nature of the show and the ludicrousness of the plot. Producing the show with such good humour and self-awareness however, doesn’t mean the performances themselves are anything short of exceptional.

Director Gale Edwards has done an extraordinary job balancing the tension of acknowledging this musical’s humour whilst telling the story in earnest.

Carmel Wallis

The author Carmel Wallis

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