Chess was written by Tim Rice, Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus. Erm?
I?m going to say right away that I?m not used to writing reviews, but on this occasion our intrepid culture team were all in the show, leaving the unfortunate readers with my ramblings. As a result, any, all or none of what I say may be paraphrased from comments on MTSoc?s own online forum.
The director?s note in the programme explains that he has lost count of the number of people who have asked him how anyone can write a musical all about chess. The answer, of course, is that they didn?t. The game is used more as a metaphor for the ?games? of politics and love taking place around the chess matches, against the backdrop of the Cold War. Very little of the game is actually seen, and there is more tension in the build-up to the matches than in the fragments of games the play actually shows.
The show was very different from what anyone familiar with IC?s student productions might have expected. For a start, there was absolutely no painted scenery other than two framed pictures that flew in for some scenes: the rest was achieved with lighting, from a Bangkok street evoked purely by hanging ?neon? signs and a street-lamp orange glow, to an Alpine mountainside created with blue backlighting and mist. At one point, live shots of the on-stage chessboard were projected onto the back panel.
Furthermore, I don?t recall any point at which the curtains closed for s scene change except between the two Acts. This was partly to create the impression of being there when the various television studios were being set up, with the interesting effect that the normally camera-shy techies were seen on-stage, almost turning grey-side as they were effectively playing the role of TV-studio techies, although unfortunately they didn?t get to wear the lederhosen. Joking aside, they did well to make the scene changes so slick, especially as the hall?s setup (without a proper sunken band pit) meant the blackouts were rather less black than may have been intended.
The show also didn?t lend itself to the energetic choreography usually seen, but if this made the show static, it also made it highly-charged. Fortunately the opening numbers of each act provided opportunities to show off some dancing and costumes; in fact, one wonders if this was partly their purpose as they had limited significance to the plot.
Furthermore, the show has no dialogue scenes, but instead some almost recitative-style musical numbers, and so credit is due to the cast and band for keeping going with no real break in the music. Adding to the difficulty was the writers? clear love of buildingtensionbythelyricscomnigfasterandfasterandclosertogetherwithlotsofsyllables.
At the risk of rekindling a slightly fierce debate on the MTSoc Forum, there were times where the relative volume of band and singers meant words could not be heard, although I?m not blaming the band for this, the show was scored for a very full-sounded band and the venue layout limited what could be done to counteract this; it didn?t sound like music you could really ask brass and percussion to play quietly. However, for the most part, the singing (principals and others) was of the high standard audiences would expect of MTSoc, even by Saturday night with some beginning to tire, and the young cast doing well in portraying some very mature emotional perspectives.
I?m probably going to stop my ramblings now, before they become any more inane. Sufficient to say, it had to be good to keep the audience (and company?!) there almost until last orders.