Andrew Panton

Chess: The Musical


Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Of all the big West End musicals, Chess is a bit of an anomaly. Based around an idea by lyricist Tim Rice, with music by Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson (who, let’s face it, know more than a thing or two about composing a catchy song), it was initially a concept album, before being adapted into this theatrical version. It’s a real ensemble piece that presents a considerable challenge to anybody reckless enough to mount a production. Luckily, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland is more than up to the task and they thrill a packed audience at the Festival Theatre with a skilful display of all things theatrical that is breathtakingly good. Indeed, I have to keep reminding myself all the way through, that I’m watching the work of students here – albeit from one of the most famous theatre schools in the world – because this demonstrates degrees of professionalism that would rival many of the biggest names in theatre.

Inspired by the real life story of chess grandmasters Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky, it’s the story of American chess player Freddie Trumper (Barney Wilkinson) and Russian player Anotoly Sergievsky (Jamie Pritchard) – and a rivalry that extends beyond the game, when Freddie’s long time muse, Florence Vassay (Daisy Ann Fletcher), becomes romantically entangled with Anotoly. Based around two world championships and presided over by The Arbiter (Emma Torrens) the stage is set for some human life subterfuge that mirrors the complexity of the central game.

It’s all masterfully done – the three lead actors sing brilliantly, there’s some incredibly complex and sophisticated choreography (often incorporating the real time use of video cameras, à la Katie Mitchell) and choral singing that sends chills down the spine. If there’s a criticism, it’s simply that during the first half of the show, the overall volume is occasionally a little too loud, but this is sorted by the second half, which features the show’s best known songs (including, of course, the sublime I Know Him So Well, with Daisy Ann Fletcher harmonising effortlessly with Hayley VerValin as Anatoly’s Russian wife Svetlana).

All-in-all, this is a fabulous show, and director Andrew Panton and choreographer Darragh O Leary can both take a well-deserved bow – and, to be honest, you won’t find a weak element in any department of this marvellous show. It all makes for a brilliant night at the theatre.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

The Broons: Maggie’s Wedding


The King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

The Broons are a much-loved Scottish institution. It’s hard to believe that, as a popular comic strip,  they have featured in The Sunday Post since 1936 – which makes this theatrical celebration an 80th anniversary event. Written by Rob Drummond and directed by Andrew Panton, it was originally commissioned and developed by Sell A Door Theatre Company and as you might expect, given the subject, there’s a robust cartoonish feel to the show. Maw and Paw Broon (Joyce Falconer and Paul Riley) preside over their working class family in the fictional town of Auchentogle, with real pride and plenty of love. As the title might suggest, the events of the play lead up to the marriage of Maggie (Kim Allan) to the (unseen) Cameron. But Maw doesn’t much like the idea of her little princess leaving the family home – and when she finds out that other members of the family are also planning to move away, she quickly takes steps to ensure that such a thing will never happen…

I’ll be the first to admit that having only recently moved to Scotland, I really don’t have much of a backstory with these characters and consequently, many of the ‘in’ jokes (which elicited roars of appreciative laughter from tonight’s audience) went completely over my head; but there was still much to enjoy here, particularly Laura Szalecki’s portrayal of the man-hungry Daphne and Duncan Brown as the monumentally thick Englishman, Jock Badge, who thinks the term ‘4 to 6 years’ on a jigsaw puzzle is an indication of how long it might take him to put it together.

As events scamper joyfully along,  the actors slip effortlessly from character to character and, since this is a play with music, just about everyone bashes out a tune on some kind of musical instrument at various points in the proceedings. The overall effect is charming and though I don’t really agree with the play’s ultimate message – that it’s better to stay with what you know than to seek out new experiences – it certainly chimes with a story that has remained totally unchanged for so very long. And who could fail to enjoy the rousing singalong at the conclusion that pays tribute to a whole host of Scottish talent from The Waterboys to The Bay City Rollers?

If you’re a fan of these fictional folk, you certainly won’t want to miss this; and, if you’re merely curious as to what the fuss is all about, you’ll still be in for an entertaining night.

4 stars

Philip Caveney