It is not often that a musical as complex as Chess is performed by an amateur company, probably because of the demands made on the cast and company by the show. But then it is not so often that there is an amateur company with the gravitas of Limelight Productions around.
Originally staged in 1986 in London’sWest End, this musical written by Tim Rice, Bjorn Alvaeus and Benny Andersson, the latter two of Abba fame, is it in the world of international chess during the cold war period. It features all the point scoring and underhand dealings that go on away from the game itself as probably the manipulation of the principals is more relevant than the game itself.
This musical has had various rewrites over the years, but what has not changed so much is the quality, or the demands, of the songs written by the aforementioned trio.
Limelight Productions have always been blessed with a seemingly endless pool of quality singers to choose from, it must be so difficult to cast each show with such depth available, but the seven principals of this production are more than equal to the task.
Act One, set in Merano Italy pits defending American champion Freddie Trumper, Bobby Mitchell, against Russian challenger Anatoly Sergievsky, Ian Hammond-Brown, with all the others, Freddie’s second Florence Vassey, Kate Haley, Anatoly’s wife Svetlana, Suzy Burnett, The Arbiter, Darren Niven, Russian delegation leader Molokov, Michael McFarlane and American TV exec and maybe CIA agent Walter, Mark Grieve, manipulating the situation like grand masters themselves.
Act Two, a year later, now in Bangkok sees the main protagonists still actively involved, okay with some role differences, plotting their moves as before all culminating towards the final endgame.
Add to these seven, there are an enormous number of equally important and talented performers as the ensemble and dancers also. In excess of thirty if I counted right, and an onstage choir numbering at least twenty so you can see the magnitude of the production that was undertaken by this group.
Somehow director Bobby Mitchell, ably assisted by Graeme Sharpe, and the choreography team of Laura McFadden and Darren Niven, using all their experience managed to get them all on and off stage with the minimum of fuss and drew fine performances and routines as the show demands.
For me the quality of the music is the hook the whole show was hung on and the band provided a top-notch bed for these classic songs such as One Night in Bangkok, I know him so Well, Anthem and Pity the Child to be performed over, and under the musical direction of Paul Gudgin and Jean Davis they all performed to the standard I now expect from this company’s shows.
The lighting design and plot delivered some interesting scenarios, and apart from the occasional early mic glitch the sound delivery through out was spot on.
I feel personally that Chess has never received the acclaim it truly deserves and was delighted with this performance. They should be rightly proud of themselves.
So go on, if you live in the Dunfermline area and enjoy top quality theatrical experiences then get yourself along to the Alhambra Theatre Dunfermline either Friday 7 or Saturday 8 October prior to 19-15 each night and grab a ticket, there maybe some left, but hurry.
Reviewed by Geoff