Chess

Date 3rd May 2024
Society Sevenoaks Players
Venue Stag Theatre, Sevenoaks
Type of Production Musical
Director Tracy Weaver assisted by Laura Connor
Musical Director Carys Snipp
Choreographer Kayleigh Weaver and Elyse Herbert
Producer Callum McFarland

Report

Author: Doreen Grierson

The 1986 musical Chess is a complex musical about a chess competition taking place during the cold war. It is a love story and about politics, power, and betrayal. It is loosely based on the world chess champion rivals of the 1970s, American Bobby Fischer and Russia’s Boris Spassky. Enter lyricist Tim Rice and composers Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus of ABBA fame and Chess The Musical was born. Set all those years ago one cannot help but compare it with events current today!

The single set was effective but quite simple really, with large white chess pieces front of stage, a black and white ‘chequer board’ in the centre and raised dais at the back to represent hotel rooms and the competition arena. Lighting and spots had to work well - which they did - to highlight where the action was taking place. Some mics, occasionally, seemed not to be working and this made it difficult, especially at the beginning, to pick up the storyline. Costumes were a success, all in black and white, with the added red accessories on some of the black costumes. What impressive choreography created by Kayleigh Weaver and Elyse Herbert, involving the whole cast and occasionally, specialist dancers. The chessboard moves were inspired.  MD Carys Snipp had her work cut out with this challenging musical score and with very little dialogue, she didn’t have any respite. How lucky was she to have such talented principals and ensemble, the musical numbers were flawless. The band wasn’t bad either! It was a little bit unfortunate that I was seated in the very front row right behind the orchestra pit so being in such close proximity, for me, the band mostly overpowered the cast. 

Claire Tilley as The Arbiter had an air of authority but as she said in the programme notes ‘with a sassier spin’ dressed in red with black trousers and Basque, everybody certainly knew who was in charge, together with the vocal ability. Ros Killpack was outstanding as Florence Vassey, delivering a passionate heart-rending performance. Bethany Fernandes was stunning as Svetlana Sergievsky, Anatoly’s wife. I think the whole audience were waiting for their duo ‘I Know Him So Well’ which was so moving. Nicholas Slesser-Pavely as Anatoly Sergievsky, the Russian chess opponent gave a strong emotive performance together with a powerful vocal range. David Jones as Anatoly’s minder Alexander Molokov certainly gave a great ‘don’t mess with me’ performance!  Dan Dunmore as the boorish losing American opponent Freddie Trumper, was also a powerhouse vocally. James Osborne  as Walter De Courcey and Harry J. Galvin as Leonid Viigand both excelled in their supporting roles.

Tracy Weaver as Director, you were bold enough to take on this challenging musical and make it your own. Your job, I’m sure, was made easier with the cast and crew that went above and beyond. An impressive production – well done everybody.